Democracy 101

A D.C. voting act suffered more inexcusable setbacks last week.

It is shocking to think that taxation without representation âÄî supposedly the righteous complaint that launched the American Revolution âÄî is alive and well in the United States nearly 250 years later. Yet there it is: The citizens of our nationâÄôs capital face an uphill battle to gain some form of representation in Congress. Last weekâÄôs shelving of the D.C. Voting Rights Act prolongs the disenfranchisement of many Americans. Washington, D.C., has nearly 600,000 residents âÄî more people than live in the entire state of Wyoming. Despite its diminutive population, Wyoming enjoys two seats in the Senate and one in the House; recent legislation would have granted one House seat to D.C. The ugly political reality here is that D.C., which on April 20 passed preliminary support of a medical marijuana bill, is a fairly liberal place. More than half the city is African American, and theyâÄôve got very strong gun control laws. A new D.C. representative would likely be a Democrat, a fact that politicizes an issue that shouldnâÄôt be politicized. Gun control, in fact, was what stalled the latest voting bill. Opponents attached a rider to loosen the cityâÄôs laws; Democrats and the City Council were outraged and pulled support. One lesson to be learned here is how badly Congress needs to limit the use of legislative riders on bills. Most states use the line-item veto to this effect, but the Supreme Court struck down a presidential line-item veto in 1998. By whatever means, this country deserves simple, up-or-down votes on individual issues. Denying D.C. its vote is also fundamentally undemocratic. Just as there can be no excuses in this country for denying citizens free speech âÄî even when their views are objectionable to some âÄî there can be no excuses for denying democratic representation.