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A vote for D.C.

Ridiculous wrangling over a gun-control amendment is keeping residents of the District of Columbia from getting a vote in Congress.

June 24, 2009

The right to vote is considered sacred in the United States, where the Constitution and federal laws aim to prevent voter discrimination. One of those laws was reaffirmed Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that certain states with a history of civil rights abuses must continue to get federal permission before changing election procedures. Yet the rules that apply to Americans of all creeds and colors still don't apply to one select minority: residents of Washington, D.C.

Those who live in the nation's capital can vote for president and for local officials, but not for a voting member of the House of Representatives. That would change if Congress approved the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. But after passage by the Senate, the bill has been placed on the legislative back burner by House leaders because of meddling by the gun lobby.

In both its House and Senate versions, the bill would expand membership of the House from 435 to 437. Only one of those seats would go to the District of Columbia; between enactment of the bill and the redistricting required by the 2010 census, the second would go to Utah, the state that came the closest to achieving additional representation in the 2000 census. It's no accident that Utah leans Republican -- awarding the state another seat would balance the extra representative that Democrats would gain from a D.C. seat.

In approving the compromise, the Senate added an amendment by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that purports to force the District to abide by last year's Supreme Court decision striking down the District's ban on handguns. But the amendment goes further: It would usurp the District's authority to enact narrower laws that might well survive a court challenge and would repeal its ban on semiautomatic weapons.

The way to get rid of this troublesome amendment would be for the House to pass a bill without it; the gun nonsense could then be stripped from the Senate bill when the two are reconciled in a conference committee. That outcome became less likely earlier this month when House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he wouldn't move the bill "at this point in time." Hoyer pointed to the failure of D.C. officials to reach a consensus about whether to accept a gun amendment and in what form. More appropriate targets for criticism are the Republicans who conspired to clutter voting-rights legislation with a gun amendment and Democrats, including conservative "Blue Dogs," who went along.

It's scandalous that an extraneous issue like gun control should hobble the effort to end taxation without representation for 600,000 D.C. residents. If Hoyer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi won't push this issue to the forefront, they should hear from a supporter of D.C. voting rights who is also the capital's most celebrated resident: President Obama.

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