A Voice for Every Voter

Elissa Froman is a former RAC legislative assistant who currently works for the National Council of Jewish Women and serves on the board of Jews United for Justice. All views are her own.

Most teenagers spend their high school years counting the days until they receive their driver’s license. But I was much more excited about a different milestone. I was one of the few teens whose calendar counted down to the day I became eligible to vote.

I vividly recall standing in the polling booth, just weeks after turning 18, and feeling overcome by the significance of casting my ballot in my first national election. In that brief moment, I thought about the suffrage movements waged by my American heroes; Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Alice Paul. I thought about my four grandparents, not one of whom was able to vote at the age of 18 – disenfranchised by Hitler’s laws and by the citizenship laws of Poland that forbade Jewish participation. I pushed the stylus through the ballot and with great pride, I voted with the knowledge that my vote, meant that I had a voice – that because I voted, I counted.

The following year, I left to attend college in Washington, DC. My first week in Washington, I noticed that many local license plates had the slogan “Taxation Without Representation” where plates in my home state of Illinois read “Land of Lincoln.” I remember thinking that this slogan must be a joke, that I failed to understand, so I visited the website printed below the quotation, www.dcvote.org. What I learned there, shocked me.

Washington, DC has 600,000 residents, making its population approximately the same size as seven states, each with a voting representative and two senators. DC residents pay billions of dollars in federal income taxes each year (their rates are the second highest in the country) and district residents serve in all branches of the United States military. The people of DC wash the windows, treat the sick, serve the food, and drive the trains of our nation’s capital. They vacuum the very halls on Capitol Hill. Yet their representation in Congress is limited to a single non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives.

The United States is embarrassingly the only democracy in the world that denies the citizens of its capital city from representation in the national legislative body. Even a cursory glance at world history shows us that the deprivation of such representation results in the erosion of public health, education, economic justice, and safety. Beyond federal disenfranchisement, every law passed by city officials is subject to a veto by Congress. This practice violates the fundamentals of federalism – the balance between local and federal power. In the seven years I have lived in Washington, I have seen how our capital city suffers for its silenced voice.

While there are countless examples, one of the most disturbing is the city’s unimaginably high rate of HIV and AIDS. In 1999, Congress preempted the city’s elected officials by preventing plans for syringe exchange programs even though they were a proven and effective means of preventing the spread of HIV. As a result, DC has an AIDS rate 10 times the national average, comparable only to sub-Saharan Africa. Giving DC residents the right to vote is much more than an issue of right and wrong; it is a matter of life and death.

In the coming days, the Senate, and soon, the House of Representatives, will have the opportunity to vote for The DC House Voting Rights Act (H.R.157, S.160). This bill would give DC a fully participating, voting member in the House of Representatives. You can help by writing your Senators and member of Congress and encouraging them to vote for the DC House Voting Rights Act (H.R.157, S.160). You can also participate in today’s call-in day to encourage them to do the same. Help ensure that every voice and every voter, counts.

The pride I felt the first time I voted stemmed from my belief that voting is an American birthright, envisioned by the framers of our constitution, and made a reality by the civil rights leaders who fought decades ago. But the movement for voting rights continues, and needs help from every person who can raise their voice and urge their representatives in Washington to enfranchise the people of Washington, DC.

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