Non-voting members of the United States House of Representatives

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Non-voting members of the United States House of Representatives include non-voting delegates and resident commissioners. They are non-voting members who are elected from a U.S. territory or from Washington, D.C., to a two-year term. While unable to vote in the full House, a non-voting member may vote in a House committee of which the delegate is a member. Historically, representatives were sent from territories before they became full states.[1] A member was sent from the Philippines until the country gained independence in 1946. Since 1993, the rules governing the rights of non-voting member have changed three times and currently representatives enjoy extra rights that they historically did not have.[1] The lack of voting rights of non-voting member has been the source of controversy, most notably in Washington D.C., where the current license plate bears the text "Taxation without Representation".

Privileges of delegates[edit]

Non voting members serve exclusively in the House of Representatives—the Senate does not include any counterpart official from U.S. areas that do not possess state status. All delegates serve a term of two years while resident commissioners serve a term of four years.[2] The non-voting delegates and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico are subject to office-holding limits, i.e., they can hold no other federal office simultaneously.[citation needed] They receive compensation, benefits, and franking privileges (the ability to send outgoing U.S. Mail without a stamp) similar to full House members.[3] Their travel account is limited to the equivalent of four round-trip flights per year per delegate.[citation needed]

Early history[edit]

John Burns of Hawaii, the last of a series of delegates to continuously serve in Congress

Territorial delegates existed before the ratification of the United States Constitution. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 allowed for a territory with "five thousand free male inhabitants of full age" to elect a non-voting delegate to the Continental Congress. After the ratification of the Constitution, the first United States Congress reenacted the Ordinance and extended it to include the territories south of the Ohio River.

In 1790, the state of North Carolina—having recently ratified the constitution, becoming the 12th state—sent its congressional delegation to what was then the Federal Capitol at New York City. Among them was former State of Franklin Governor John Sevier, whose district comprised the "counties beyond the Alleghenies".[4][4] He took office June 16, 1790, however, the government of North Carolina had ceded his district to the federal government on February 25, 1790 and it was organized into a territory on August 7, 1790.[4] He remained a member of the House until March 3, 1791 when he was appointed brigadier general of the militia.[5]

On September 3, 1794, James White was elected by the Southwest Territory, which contained Sevier's former district, to be their delegate to Congress.[6][1] A resolution was put forth in the House to admit him to Congress, but as a delegate was not a position stated in the Constitution, the House debated what, if any, privileges White would have. As the Northwest Ordinance had only stated that a delegate is to sit "in Congress" the first debate was which chamber a delegate would sit in. Resolutions that he sit in both chambers and that his right to debate be limited to territorial matters were defeated. Ultimately, the House voted to allow him a non-voting seat in the House.[1]

Following his placement, representatives debated whether he should take the oath. Representative James Madison stated "The proper definition of Mr. White is to be found in the Laws and Rules of the Constitution. He is not a member of Congress, therefore, and so cannot be directed to take an oath, unless he chooses to do it voluntarily."[7] As he was not a Member, he was not directed to take the oath, though every delegate after him has done so.[1] He was also extended franking privileges, which allowed him to send official mail free of charge, and compensation at the same rate as members.[1]

In 1802 Congress passed a law that specifically extended franking privileges and pay to delegates. An act passed in 1817 codified the term and privileges of delegates:

[I]n every territory of the United States in which a temporary government has been, or hereafter shall be established...shall have the right to send a delegate to Congress, such delegate shall be elected every second year, for the same term of two years for which members of the House of Representatives of the United States are elected; and in that house each of the said delegates shall have a seat with a right of debating, but not of voting.[8]

Resident commissioner[edit]

Federico Degetau y González of Puerto Rico, The first Resident Commissioner in the United States Congress

Similar to delegates are resident commissioners, who represented the large areas acquired during the Spanish–American War, and for much of the 20th century were considered colonies, not territories and unlike the previously acquired areas which would become the continental US or Alaska and Hawaii, did not have residents with the rights of, or to US citizenship.[9] Unlike incorporated territories, they have the right to secede from the Union, and in the case of the Philippines, they have.

Puerto Rico[edit]

Puerto Rico, a U.S. Commonwealth, has been represented by a non-voting Resident Commissioner since 1901. The resident commissioner holds a status similar to that of a delegate within the House, but serves a four-year term. The resident commissioner is the only individual elected to the House who serves for this duration.[10]

The Philippines[edit]

From 1907 until 1937, while it was a U.S. territory, the Philippines elected two non-voting resident commissioners to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. From 1937 until 1946, while it was a U.S. Commonwealth, the Philippines sent one non-voting resident commissioner to the House. Upon independence in 1946, the Philippines ceased to be represented in Congress.

Revival of the Office[edit]

In the mid-1960s, a number of small territories which had no chance of becoming states began to consider sending delegates to Congress in order to seek official recognition. Starting in 1970, they actually did so.

American Samoa[edit]

American Samoa, an insular area since 1929, first elected a delegate, A. U. Fuimaono, in 1970. However, one was not seated until 1981, when Fofó Iosefa Fiti Sunia took office.

Walter E. Fauntroy. the first modern delegate from the District of Columbia

District of Columbia[edit]

The District of Columbia is technically a federal district—not a territory, commonwealth or insular area. However, it briefly had a delegate to Congress, from 1871 to 1875. This situation did not last long and congressional representation was terminated. The District had no other delegates until 1971, when the House of Representatives agreed to seat Walter E. Fauntroy.[11]

The Virgin Islands and Guam[edit]

In 1972, the House agreed to admit two more delegates, Ron de Lugo from the US Virgin Islands, which became a U.S. territory in 1917; and Antonio Borja Won Pat from Guam. Won Pat had been elected first in the mid-1960s and had been seeking a place in the House since then. The islands became part of the US in 1899.

Northern Mariana Islands[edit]

For thirty years, since 1978, citizens of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) elected a Resident Representative, commonly known as Washington representative, an office established by Article V of the Constitution of the Northern Mariana Islands for the purpose of representing the CNMI in the United States capital and performing related official duties established by CNMI law.

In 2008, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, signed into law by President George W. Bush, replaced the position of Resident Representative with a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.

The election of the first delegate took place in November 2008. It was the only contest on the ballot because CNMI elections traditionally occurred in odd-numbered years. Gregorio Sablan won the election and took office in January 2009.[12]

Expanding (and contracting) voting rights[edit]

The positions of non-voting delegates are now a more or less permanent fixture of the house of representatives, having been supported by Congressional legislation (see Section 891, of Title 48 of the U. S. Code). However, this legislation stipulates that "...the right to vote in committee shall be provided by the Rules of the House." Hence, the House majority could, without consulting the Senate or the President, weaken the delegates.

In 1993, the 103rd Congress approved a rule change that allowed the four delegates and the resident commissioner to vote on the floor of the House, but only in the Committee of the Whole. However, if any measure passed or failed in the Committee of the Whole because of a delegate's vote, a second vote—excluding the delegates—would be taken. In other words, delegates were permitted to vote only if their votes had no effect on a measure's ultimate outcome. This change was denounced by Republicans (all five of the delegates either were Democrats or were allied with the Democrats at the time) as a case of partisanship;[citation needed] the Democrats had lost a dozen house seats in the 1992 election, and this change effectively reduced the impact by half. In 1995, this rule change was reversed by the 104th Congress, stripping the delegates of even non-decisive votes. The reversal was in turn denounced by Democrats (all five of the Delegates either were Democrats or were allied with the Democrats at the time) as a case of partisanship;[citation needed] the change was made after Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years. In January 2007, it was proposed by Democrats in the House that the 1993–1995 procedure be revived.[citation needed] Delegates had this right during the 110th and 111th Congresses.[13] Republicans again objected, and when their party gained control of the House during the 112th Congress, the right of delegates to vote in committee of the whole was again removed.[14][15]

Delegates still retain the right to vote in congressional committees and in conference committees (see House Rule III, 3[b]). Conference committees include representatives from both the House and Senate. These committees work to compromise and reconcile conflicts between House and Senate bills.

Current non-voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

District Title Incumbent Party First
American Samoa at-large Delegate Amata Coleman Radewagen Republican 2014
District of Columbia at-large Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton Democratic 1990
Guam at-large Delegate Madeleine Bordallo Democratic 2002
Northern Mariana Islands at-large Delegate Gregorio Sablan Democratic 2008
Puerto Rico at-large Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi NPP & Democratic 2008
U.S. Virgin Islands at-large Delegate Stacey Plaskett Democratic 2014

See also[edit]


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  1. ^ a b c d e f  This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Delegates to the U.S. Congress: History and Current Status" by Betsy Palmer.
  2. ^ "Delegates and Resident Commissioners". Office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives. Retrieved 30 July 2015. 
  3. ^ 48 U.S.C. § 1715
  4. ^ a b c Gilmore, James (1887). John Sevier As a Commonwealth-builder: a Sequel to The Rear-guard of the Revolution. New York: D. Appleton and Company.  p. 36
  5. ^ "SEVIER, John". United States House of Representatives. 
  6. ^ "WHITE, James". United States House of Representatives. 
  7. ^ Annals of Congress, vol. 4, 3rd Cong., 2nd sess., November 18, 1794, pp. 884-889. cited in Palmer, ibid.
  8. ^ An act further to regulate the territories of the United States, and their electing delegates to congress, Library of Congress, March 3, 1817 
  9. ^ The Louisiana Purchase and American Expansion: 1803–1898. By Sanford Levinson and Bartholomew H. Sparrow. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. 2005. Page 15.
  10. ^ "111th House Freshmen: Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico (AL)". Congressional Quarterly. November 5, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2008. 
  11. ^ Tarr, David R.; Benenson, Bob, eds. (2012). Elections A to Z (4th ed.). Sage Publications. p. 165. ISBN 9780872897694. 
  12. ^ Donato, Agnes E. (November 19, 2008). "Absentee votes confirm Kilili victory". Saipan Tribune. 
  13. ^ H.Res. 78, 110th Congress
  14. ^ H.Res. 5, 112th Congress
  15. ^ "House Delegates Stripped of Vote". Roll Call. January 5, 2011. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 

External links[edit]