D.C. Voting Right Act Achieves Cloture In Senate

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Feb 24, 2009 at 12:52

The D.C. Voting Rights Act has passed through cloture in the Senate, 62-34. It is now a certainty to pass into law.

The act grants D.C. a full voting member in the House of Representatives, a seat which will be held by a Democrat for a long, long, loooong time. Currently, the seat is held by Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is a frequent guest on the Colbert Report. In exchange, the Act also grants a fourth member of Congress to Utah (currently Utah has three Representatives, two Republicans and one Democrat). Since Utah was next in line to receive an additional Representative, this is the sort of bi-partisan compromise I can live with. We end a great stain on our Republic by giving D.C. representation in the U.S. House, get a new, uber-solid Democratic seat, and all it required was giving Utah something it would have received in 2012 anyway.

This will temporarily increase the number of full voting members in the House to 437, and makes the partisan breakdown 257-178, with two vacancies (NY-20 and UT-04). For the 2012 elections, D.C. will keep it's full voting rights, but there will be only 434 House districts seats outside of D.C. The increase to 437 seats is nice (and also ends the possibility of a tie in the Electoral College, since there are now 539 electoral votes), but I'd like to see the number of members of the U.S. House increased even more. 449, 599, or an even higher number would be fantastic. The House originally fixed the number of seats at 435 back in 1911 the 1920's, and since that time the population of individual districts has more than tripled. If there were 599 seats in the House, each district would have about 510,000 members, which is roughly the current population of Wyoming and D.C.  Also, with 599 members, everyone would know how many seats are required for a majority (300), how many to override a veto (400), and we would have a wave of fresh faces in Congress that could potentially shake things up.

Update: Errors corrected, thanks to the commenters.

Chris Bowers :: D.C. Voting Right Act Achieves Cloture In Senate

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I'm pretty sure the move to 437 is permanent (4.00 / 2)
not temporary, contrary to what you write Chris. (I'm 90% sure.)

That could actually be a good thing for Dems, since it would mean that one state scheduled to lose a seat in the next redistricting could keep it, and it looks like that state will be a blue state (most probably CA or MN?).

It is (0.00 / 0)
The House will permanently be put at 437 members. This also means that the Electoral College will be 539 votes, not 538. (Nate Silver better grab that domain name!)  

[ Parent ]
too late (0.00 / 0)
fivethirtynine.com was bought last summer.  


[ Parent ]
Just do what the Big Ten did . . . (0.00 / 0)
. . . when it added its 11th member (Penn State) in 1993. Keep the name the way it is.

[ Parent ]
Yes to 599 or more (4.00 / 3)
The original idea of the lower House with so many Members was so that at least half of congress would represent the people. That concept loses out when a district has half a million citizens. Smaller districts would allow, in theory and hopefully sometimes in practice, districts that were more geographically compact, centered around small cities in some cases, or similar neighborhoods of big cities. Smaller districts would also reduce the cost of political campaigns, certainly in those cases where now districts sprawl over two or three media markets (or four or five or six, like KY-01).

With votes cast electronically in almost all legislatures, there's no compelling reason to limit the number of representatives to the number of polished mahogany desk that can be fitted into the existing meeting room.

1911 (4.00 / 2)
Congress set the number of House members at 435 in 1911 (Public Law 62-5).  (The first House with 435 members was elected in 1912.) Previously the number had mostly increased with population growth and with the addition of new states.

The First Congress had 65 members. By the 1830s, membership had grown to 240.

My guess is that the size of Congress was limited due to the size of the existing facilities.  That is a pretty lame reason.

Pmcreasing the zize of the House would decrease the relative wright of the extra voites in the electoral college (the 2 for Senate seats).  The result would make it more likely the popular vote winner would be elected.  I guess Gore woulkd have won even without Florida.  

Limit (0.00 / 0)
You're right about why the House limited its size.

Prior to 1912, the House floor was set up like the Senate, with each House member having their own desk. After the 1912 Elections, there wasn't enough room for the desks, and they were removed in favor of the benches seen today.

Now the House floor has just enough room to accomodate a Joint Session of Congress (The House, Senate, Cabinet, etc).

If the House is significantly expanded, either the spectator galleries would have to be taken over, or a new House chamber constructed.  

[ Parent ]
Electoral Votes Increase to 539 (0.00 / 0)
While we're adding 2 additional Congressional seats, DC will stay at 3 EVs, so we will have one more Electoral Vote, for a total of 539. Removing the possibility of a tie in the Presidential election (assuming 2 candidates) is even a bigger benefit.


nice but un-Constitutional (0.00 / 0)
Is there any reason to think this law will survive judicial scrutiny? D.C. after all is not a state.

Living Document! (0.00 / 0)
I'm pretty sure it could (and will, if it actually goes to court) be argued that the Constitution never addressed a non-state entity which still contains citizens of the US, and that the intention of the Framers was to give all US citizens a representative in the House.  Tada!

So yeah, it might die at the Supreme Court level (I'd put money on a 5-4 decision either way).

[ Parent ]
I listened to the arguments today (0.00 / 0)
Apparently the phrase "the several states" is used in a number of places, and there are a number of Supreme Court rulings that say this phrase also applies to DC. So on a "consistency" basis, it could also apply in this case. Whether it actually does, as you say, will be decided 5-4.


[ Parent ]
It's been a while (0.00 / 0)
since I've read the Constitution, but couldn't they just declare that the area containing the WH, Capitol building, Supreme Court etc. does not have representation in Congress, but that the surrounding areas do?

That way, the only folks who can't vote for a representative are the folks living in the White House (unless, of course, they stay registered in their home state). And the folks in Foggy Bottom, Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle could finally have their votes counted.

[ Parent ]
You're assuming (0.00 / 0)
that it was constitutional to take a group of citizens, draw the boundaries of the District around them, and then a few years later enact a law that denied their ability to vote in MD and VA (depending on which side of the Potomac they were on) from continuing to vote in their former states.  

It was the second decision that denied people DC the right to vote, not the first. That means that for a time, DC resident did vote for House and Senate despite not being in a state.  

Denying people in DC the right to vote was unconstitutional in the first place - Congress had power to create the District, but where did the power to deny people the right to vote come from?  

This decision is a step in the right direction, but it's only a half measure.

Also, its not clear that anyone would have standing to sue on these grounds. Standing requirements can be loose, but they still exist.  Merely believing that a law is unconstitutional isn't enough to get a court ruling.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Now There's An Idea! (4.00 / 2)
I'm all for increasing the size of the House.  The number of people a Representative represents should be no more than the population of the smallest state.  This way, each member of the House will represent the same number of people.

the implications here (0.00 / 0)
what possible argument can anyone who voted for this bill make against giving DC their full voting rights - which means 2 US Senators. If someone felt DC residents should have true representation in the House, how could they vote against that true representation in the Senate? This, to me, means that Democrats in DC should put getting DC its 2 Senators fairly high up on the Democratic agenda. Honestly, in terms of importance, this could truly be one of the 10 most important things that could happen to this country - because getting DC its 2 Senate seats would be huge for the progressive agenda. If we're going to keep the arcane and undemocratic idea of the US Senate, we may as well make it as democratic as possible - which means DC gets to vote just like Wyoming, its less populace cousin, does.


One good idea deserves another... (0.00 / 0)
I like your idea of more reps, Chris. The more voices in a representative democracy the better.
Now how 'bout this one, one male and one female Senate seat? We forced gender seats into the Iraqui constitution, how about here?
The idea of a gender seat could also be extended to the Congressional districts with two representatives per district.
I think it would really liven things up.


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