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Roll Call

D.C. Voting Rights Advocates Search for Partner State

While many political types were looking at the 2010 census to figure out which states gained Congressional districts, advocates of voting rights for Washington, D.C., were concerned with which states didn’t.

DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said the group wants to partner with a state that nearly missed gaining a seat in Congress to craft legislation that would mirror a D.C. voting rights bill from 2009. The most promising state on the list so far is North Carolina, he said.

The 2009 bill would have given heavily Democratic D.C. its first Representative. It also would have given an additional House seat to the next state in line to receive one, based on the 2000 census apportionment calculations. That state would have been Utah, which has only one Democrat in its Congressional delegation and has been governed by Republicans since the 1980s.

Because a Republican would be likely to win a new Utah seat, the hope was that the arrangement would alleviate concerns about adding a Democrat to the House ranks from the District. But the bill died in the House over another issue: a controversial amendment that would have banned the District from barring residents from carrying guns.

“Utah was a good partner because it was such a Republican state, and we have some confidence that an additional seat would be a Republican seat” in North Carolina, Zherka said. “We’ll have a sense over the next month or so whether this is a partnership worth exploring.”

But unlike Utah, North Carolina’s Senate and House delegations are split, and it has a Democratic governor.

Utah hadn’t gained a Representative since the 1980 census and was narrowly passed over after the 2000 census in favor of North Carolina. Utah will gain a seat in this year’s reapportionment, bringing its total to four House Members.

North Carolina gained one seat in each of the last two cycles, but the Tar Heel State’s 18.5 percent population growth since 2000 was not enough to secure a 14th Representative this year.

Voting rights groups might have an early ally in Rep. G.K. Butterfield. D.C.’s voting status is “one of the greatest injustices of our lifetimes,” the North Carolina Democrat said in an interview Tuesday. He said he would look at the possibility of working with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to craft legislation.

“It’s an intriguing idea,” Butterfield said. “There’s a way it can be done. We’re not talking about statehood, we’re talking about representation. Big difference.”

A spokesman for Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said there has been no talk on the issue so far in his office.

But Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said that giving the District a full voting Member would be unconstitutional and that she’s sure her colleagues would nix any such plan. She instead suggested rolling the District into Maryland.

“I cannot imagine that North Carolina Republicans would work with D.C.,” she said. “We swear to uphold the Constitution, so I cannot see how anybody in this body after having taken a vote to uphold the Constitution could possibly entertain the notion of giving a Representative to the District of Columbia.”

Zherka said the group will also reach out to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who voted in favor of the Senate’s version of the D.C. voting rights bill, which the chamber passed last year. The state’s other Senator, Richard Burr (R), voted against it.

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