DC City Council and Voting Rights Advocates Stand Strong
First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary Will Bring Attention to District's Plight
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February 19, 2003
The DC City Council heard testimony today from District residents and voting rights advocates strongly supporting The Presidential Primary Election Act of 2003 that will move the District of Columbia presidential primary to first-in-the-nation on January 13, 2004. Introduced by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, all thirteen DC City Councilmembers are sponsors of the legislation. Mayor Anthony Williams has publicly stated he will support the legislation. Holding the first-in-the-nation primaries will raise the issue of the denial of voting rights to DC residents among potential presidential candidates. The legislation is expected to pass the Council in early April 2003 and will then be subject to a thirty-day congressional review during which time Congress may overturn it.
Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of DC Vote, was among those to testify. His remarks follow:
"On behalf of DC Vote, I would like to express our support for moving the DC primary to first in the nation.
"For us, moving the primary makes obvious sense. America has a dirty little secret, and it's time to expose it. Most of the nation, and indeed most of the world, believe that the capital of this great country embodies our democratic ideals. But we know differently.
"We know that America's democracy is incomplete. We know that the people who house this government, who serve this government, who work to perfect our system of government, and who play host to the nation's of the world, do not share the fruits of democracy. Now it is time for the world to know as well. Moving DC's primary will help serve to expose the denial of democracy to the over half a million residents of the District of Columbia.
"There are those in the both our local and national political parties who say that we should wait. "Wait until 2008. Don't upset the cart. There are rules that must be followed." Many of these people are well meaning, and some are our supporters, but they seem to have lost sight of our plight and our disenfranchisement.
"At the DC Democratic State Committee special meeting last week, a compromise was offered that would allow for DC to have the first-in-the-nation primaries and permit a full complement of delegates to be seated at the national convention. The Council and the party ought to work together on this solution to the controversy. Let the people of DC speak in a primary on January 13, 2004 with the party caucus occurring in February. That seems reasonable.
"Of course, even in the face of compromise, there will still be those people who oppose the change. Indeed, it seems like the time in never right for reform, and other agents of change have met similar resistance. One person had something very profound to say about another important action that led to great social change. . .
"For years now, I have heard the word, 'Wait'"... This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never'. We must come to see... that justice too long delayed is justice denied."
"That person, a great agent of change, was Martin Luther King, Jr., and his words hold wisdom for us today.
When we look back on this historical moment, we have to ask ourselves, as did people like Martin Luther King: "What do we want history to say of us?" Do we want people to say that DC decided to wait patiently to present its case in 2008? Or do we want history to say that in 2003 this city made a decisive move that ultimately led to full voting representation in the Congress?
Often the seeds of victory are planted through small acts of courage on a small stage when few people are watching. I believe that this is such a moment.
The question is: "Will we have the courage to seize this moment?" I believe we will. The time has long since come for DC to move to the front of the Democracy bus.
Let DC go first and let DC Vote! Thank you.
[End of remarks. Check against delivery.]
Since 1801, Washingtonians have been denied local autonomy and representation in the U.S. Government. Only under international pressure in 1960 did Congress pass a Constitutional amendment giving citizens of the nation's capital limited voting rights in presidential elections. In the 1970's for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the citizens of Washington, DC were permitted a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives and given limited, local autonomy. When polled (Source: Richards Poll, 1999), 72% of Americans support giving District residents equal voting rights in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. With growing enthusiasm from the residents of Washington, DC, DC Vote and a coalition of organizations are renewing the effort to move Congress to resolve this over two-hundred-year-old Constitutional anomaly.
DC Vote is a non-partisan, non-profit organization designed to educate the American people about the denial of equal rights and the lack of full voting representation in Congress for the residents of the District of Columbia.