The District Without A Vote

Visitors take a stroll under the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin in Washington, Friday, March 30, 2007. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
AP
In the last month alone, Congress voted to increase the minimum wage, passed ethics and lobbying reform and approved a multi-billion dollar spending bill for the war in Iraq.

But, as CBS News anchor Katie Couric reports, one congressional district could offer neither a yea or a nay on these, or any other house measures — the District of Columbia — because it has no voting rights in Congress.

"It is really almost on the verge of hypocritical for us to call ourselves the world's greatest democracy, but not give the District residents an opportunity to have representation," said D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Instead, D.C. has a delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She may not have a vote, but she sure has a voice.

"I will not yield, sir!" she said on the floor of the House of Representatives. "The District of Columbia has spent 206 years yielding!"

And she's used it to get a bill passed in the House that would give the District its first full vote on the House floor.

"You would think that the one vote everybody was entitled to is a vote in the people's House," she said.

But in Washington, principle is peppered with politics. Norton's would be a Democratic seat. So a compromise in her bill offers an additional seat to the Republican-leaning state of Utah, the next state in line to enlarge its Congressional delegation based on its population. But that hasn't stopped some conservatives from calling the measure unconstitutional.

"Clearly, the constitution states that any individual who serves in the Unites States House of Representatives must represent a state," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. "And the District of Columbia is not a state."

And that's what has historians pondering. Did the founding fathers intend to deny a vote to the residents of their own capitol? Or did they assume they'd be counted among Maryland and Virginia? That's how it was before the federal government assumed jurisdiction over the city in 1801.

"I don't know that they looked ahead to how it would affect the balance of power. I just think they saw it as business as usual," said historian Chuck DiGiacomantonio of the First Federal Congress Project. "If you were on the Maryland side of the Potomac river, in the federal district, you were considered part of Maryland."

Norton testifying before Senate

"Everyone's always saying, 'write your Congressman.' Well I don't really have one," said TK.

Arguably, the country's balance of power won't change. Norton's bill doesn't provide for a district seat in the Senate, and it's the Senate that must still approve the bill, which President Bush has threatened to veto. But that hasn't dampened D.C.'s hopes that it will one day have both taxation and representation.