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Delegate (United States Congress)

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Delegate (United States Congress)

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. Historically representatives were sent from territories before they became full States.[1] A member was sent from the Philippines until their secession in 1946. Since 1993 the rules governing the rights of non-voting delegates 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 delegates has been the source of controversy, most notably in Washington D.C., where the current license plate is Taxation without Representation.

Privileges of 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 state 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.[2][3] Their travel account is limited to the equivalent of four round-trip flights per year per delegate.[4]

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 State of 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 of the Southwest Territory, which had once been Sevier'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 given speaking privileges in the U.S. House of Representatives.


In 1799, the Resident Commissioner, there were no further delegates until 1970.

Resident commissioner

Similar to delegates are resident commissioners, who represented 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 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.[5]

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 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

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.

District of Columbia

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.[6]

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 seeking a place in the House ever since. The islands became part of the US in 1899.

Northern Mariana Islands

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 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.[7]

Expanding (and contracting) voting rights

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; 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; 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.[8] Delegates had this right during the 110th and 111th Congresses.[9] 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.[10][11]

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 Delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives

District Incumbent Party First
American Samoa at-large Eni Faleomavaega Democratic 1988
District of Columbia at-large Eleanor Holmes Norton Democratic 1990
Guam at-large Madeleine Bordallo Democratic 2002
Northern Mariana Islands at-large Gregorio Sablan Democratic 2008
Puerto Rico at-large Pedro Pierluisi NPP & Democratic 2008
U.S. Virgin Islands at-large Donna Christian-Christensen Democratic 1996


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ 48 U.S.C. § 891
  3. ^ § 1711
  4. ^ 48 U.S.C. § 1715
  5. ^ "111th House Freshmen: Pedro Pierluisi, D-Puerto Rico (AL)".  
  6. ^ Tarr, David R.; Benenson, Bob, eds. (2012). Elections A to Z (4th ed.).  
  7. ^ Donato, Agnes E. (November 19, 2008). "Absentee votes confirm Kilili victory". Saipan Tribune. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ H.Res. 78, 110th Congress
  10. ^ H.Res. 5, 112th Congress
  11. ^ "House Delegates Stripped of Vote". Roll Call. January 5, 2011. Retrieved January 5, 2011. 

External links

  • History and powers of DC's Delegate to Congress
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