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Delegate (United States Congress): Wikis


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A Delegate to Congress is a non-voting member of the United States House of Representatives who is 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 Delegate may vote in a House committee of which the Delegate is a member. The positions are now more permanent, 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, if the delegate system or the individuals serving as delegates were to pose a threat to the institution of the House, the House majority could, without consulting the Senate or the President, discipline or weaken the delegates.

Delegates serve exclusively in the House of Representatives — the Senate does not include any counterpart official from U.S. areas that do not possess statehood status. 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. They receive compensation, benefits, and franking privileges (the ability to send outgoing U.S. Mail without a stamp) similar to full House members (48 U.S.C. § 891, § 1711). Their travel account is limited to the equivalent of four round-trip flights per year per delegate (48 U.S.C. § 1715).


Early history



In 1790, the state of North Carolina, having recently ratified the constitution and become the 12th state, sent its congressional delegation to what was then the Federal Capitol at New York City. Among them was former Franklin Governor John Sevier, whose fifth district comprised the territory of the "proclaimed state". Soon after he arrived, however, it was learned that the government of North Carolina had ceded his district to the Federal Government, and for rest of his abbreviated term, he continued to sit in Congress as a full member, despite the fact that he was no longer representing one of the several states.

On September 3, 1794, the government the Southwest Territory, which had once been Servier's district, chose James White to be its delegate to Congress, a position that had been mentioned in the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, but nowhere in the Constitution. White had to wait while Congress debated where he should sit, if at all. Finally, he was giving speaking privileges in the US House of Representatives.


In 1799, the Northwest territory elected William Henry Harrison as their first delegate to Congress, and as the nation expanded, as soon as a territory was officially recognized by Congress to be properly organized, it would send a delegate, sometimes two, to Washington. With the admission of Hawaii to the Union, on August 21, 1959, and with Puerto Rico sending a Resident Commissioner, the office of Delegate went into abeyance.

The office of Resident Commissioner

Similar to the office of Delegate is that of Resident Commissioner, which applied to the large territories acquired during the Spanish American War.

Puerto Rico

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

The Philippines

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

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

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia, otherwise known as Washington, D.C., the capital city of the United States, is technically a federal district — not a territory, commonwealth or insular area. However, it briefly was from 1871–73, and had a delegate to Congress. This situation did not last long and congressional representation was terminated. The District had no delegates until 1971, when Congress agreed to seat Walter E. Fauntroy as the first Delegate to the House of Representatives in twelve years.

The Virgin Islands and Guam

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 trying to "crash" for almost a decade. The island became part of the US in 1899.

American Samoa

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.

Northern Mariana Islands

For thirty years, since 1978, the citizens of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands 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 nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives.

The election of the first delegate was set for November 4, 2008. It was the only contest on the ballot because local elections in the CNMI traditionally occur in odd-numbered years. In a very close election, the people of the CNMI elected Gregorio Sablan as its first delegate in November 2008.[1]

Expanding voting rights

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; 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 also 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; the change was made after Republicans gained control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Republicans countered that the former rule essentially gave the Democrats five more votes to which they were not constitutionally entitled. In January 2007, it was proposed by Democrats in the House that the 1993–1995 procedure be revived.[2] The House approved the proposal with the adoption of H.Res. 78 by a vote of 226–191.

Current practice not only grants delegates votes in the standing committees, but also in the powerful 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. Conferees often have great influence on the specifics of new federal laws.


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