Delegate to Congress is a non-voting member of the
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
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
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
stamp) similar to full House members ( , ). Their travel account is
limited to the equivalent of four round-trip flights per year per
delegate ( ).
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
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
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
, a U.S. Commonwealth
, has been
represented by a non-voting Resident
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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, an insular area since 1929, first elected a
delegate, A.U. Fuimaono
in 1970. However, one was not seated
until 1981, when Fofó Iosefa
Northern Mariana Islands
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.
, replaced the position of
Resident Representative with a nonvoting delegate to the House of
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
Expanding voting rights
In 1993, the 103rd
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
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
, 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
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. The House approved the proposal
with the adoption of 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