Non-voting members of Congress

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In addition to 435 voting members, the U.S. House features five non-voting seats. These seats are filled by representatives from the District of Columbia, as well as the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each of these representatives, except Puerto Rico, serve as delegates in the House. The representative from Puerto Rico is officially a resident commissioner.

Contents

Current non-voting delegates

The following five non-voting delegates serve in the 110th Congress:

History

Congress established the position of delegate soon after the Constitution was ratified to provide limited representation to areas eventually expected to enter the union as states. The first delegate, representing the area south of the Ohio River, took his seat in 1794. [1]

The current U.S. territories (and D.C.) have been granted membership in Congress at different times. The following is a list of territories currently represented in Congress, followed by the date in which their representation began. [2] [3]

  • American Samoa - 1978
  • District of Columbia - 1970
  • Guam - 1972
  • Puerto Rico - 1901
  • U.S. Virgin Islands - 1972

Election and voting privileges

Similar to voting members, delegates are elected to Congress every two years. In the case of the resident commissioner (Puerto Rico), elections are held every four years. Traditionally, delegates, as well as the resident commissioner, were permitted to serve on committees, as well as vote on legislation at the committee level. Floor voting, however, was never permitted. The rights of non-voting members were expanded by rule changes in 1993 and 2007, respectively.

1993 (103rd Congress) rule change

In 1993, a Democratic-led House changed the rules to allow delegates and the resident commissioner (all 5 of whom were Democrats) to vote on the House floor in the "Committee of the Whole," whereby bills are debated and amendments are added. The rule, however, stipulated that if a delegate's vote was decisive, the committee would disband and a new vote would be taken without the non-voting members. When Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, the rules were reversed, and the non-voting members lost this right. [4]

2007 (110th Congress) rule change

In 2007, Democrats again took control of Congress and reinstated the rule providing limited voting rights. The rule change was approved largely along party lines, 226-191.

January 24, 2007
Passed, 229-191, view details
Dem: 228-1 in favor, GOP: 1-190 opposed, Ind: 0-0

Cosponsors

The rule change was sponsored by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). It was cosponsored by:

Support and opposition

Following the vote, Hoyer admitted the change was largely symbolic, but added that “It is an opportunity for them to participate.” Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D), who had represented American Samoa in the House since 1989, supported the change by emphasizing that his “territory has the highest per capita casualty rate (in Iraq) in the whole United States.” Del. Donna Christensen (D-V.I.) said that she would have preferred to receive full voting rights, but that the rule change was "important because it's a step forward." [5]

All but one House Republican, Rep. Dan Burton (Ind.), opposed the change. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called it, “An outrageous grab of power by the majority,” while Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) argued it amounted to, “Representation without taxation.” [6] Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said that Republicans may even seek a court challenge to the rule, stating that it is "the only option we have." The rule had been previously challenged in 1993, but a federal judge upheld it on the basis that it did not violate the Constitution because the delegates and the commissioner were prevented from impacting the final outcome of a vote. [7]

Full voting rights for DC

In addition to efforts to expand the rights of all delegates and the resident commissioner, Congress has often addressed the issue of voting rights in the District of Columbia separately. In 1978, both Houses passed a constitutional amendment granting the District with representation in the both the House and Senate. The amendment, however, was never ratified by the necessary thirty-eight states. Numerous efforts followed over the next several decades, including attempts to pass a new amendment, designate the District a state, and allow the District to vote in Maryland elections. In 2005, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) introduced a bill which would provide full representation for the District in the House, as well as an additional seat for the state of Utah. The bill passed 29-4 in the House Government Reform Committee, but was never brought to the floor of the 109th Congress. The Democratic-led House, however, was expected to revisit the bill in the 110th Congress.

Main article: Voting rights in the District of Columbia

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