Yesterday evening, I had a chance to hear my friend Tom Goss sing in my city. He’s from Washington DC, so I usually only get to see him perform once a year. It’s always a good time, and a great way to spend the evening. But as the night unfolded, my mind did tend to start twirling around an issue… one that he and many others in our nation’s capital face. None of them are fully represented in Congress.
Each state within our union has a number of Representatives that is based on population and two Senators. The combination of both of these numbers determines how many Electoral votes each state gets in a presidential election. Washington DC gets three electoral votes, but that was granted to them by the 23rd Amendment of the US Constitution in March 1961. Until then, they had no say in any presidential election, and they still have no official representation. Why? Because it’s not a state but rather a federal district… hence the DC in Washington, DC. (District of Columbia) When the site and planning went into our young nation’s new capital city, it was decided that it would not belong to any state. It would instead be an area unto itself… a district. Only about half of that federal district exists to this very day. Since it’s not officially a state, it is treated like any other US territory and is only given a delegate in the House of Representatives.
So what is the difference between a delegate and a full-fledged Congressman/woman in the House? It’s quite simple. The delegate serves on committees (like any normal Congressman/woman) and can vote on those committees; however, they are not allowed to vote for any legislation on the House floor. So if a bill goes to the floor for a vote, and they didn’t serve on the committee that drafted that bill, then the people that delegate is over has no say in it at all. I can understand US territories (Puerto Rico, Guam Midway, etc) having just a delegate, but our nation’s capital. These are full-fledged American citizens and they aren’t being properly represented. Wasn’t one of our rallying cries for our initial rebellion against Great Britain, “No taxation without representation.”? Yet here we have American citizens being denied full representation (like all the other US citizens have) and yet still being taxed by that same federal government. It would almost seem like our politicians have forgotten the roots of our own nation. And to even top all of this… under Article I, Section 8, Clause 17… “[The Congress shall have Power] To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States.” So Congress has final say on any local legislation passed by the city government as well. (NOTE: Washington DC has no type of representation in the Senate.)
Though DC is not a state, this entire ordeal screams of a violation of our founding principles. We have American citizens that aren’t being represented. So is there a way to fix it? Some have tried to get the federal district listed as a “state” so it would have full voting rights. It does meet the population requirement to become one. In 2011, it was estimated that Washington DC had a population of 618,000; whereas the state of Wyoming has a population of 568,000. But some argue that DC becoming a state is unconstitutional since it was designed to be a federal district and only states get to have elected members. There was a movement in the 1980s by the people of Washington DC to draft a state constitution, but Congress has never granted it authorization. There was also an amendment to the US Constitution that was put up for a vote called the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment. It would have granted DC full representation in Congress, full participation in the Electoral College, and full participation in the way the US Constitution is written. It was proposed in August 1978 but failed to get the 38-states needed for ratification before the deadline of August 1985. (NOTE: Out of all the plans, only if DC was granted statehood or if the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment had been ratified would Washington DC have voting members in the House and Senate. All other plans would just grant it a voting member in the House.)
As recent as 2009, there was a push to bring DC congressional voting rights. It was led by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the Senate and by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in the House of Representatives. The bill in the Senate had bipartisan support and passed, but the overall bill would later fail to get enough votes in both houses of Congress. The bill would have granted DC a full voting member in the House of Representatives (no representation in the Senate) and would have also given an additional seat in the House to the next state granted the state next in line by Census date. This was done because the next state in line at the time was Utah… a Republican stronghold, and DC always votes Democratic, which is why the Republican Party has usually been against Washington DC having full voting rights in Congress.
Our Founding Fathers, when they laid the framework of our federal government in the US Constitution , couldn’t have imagined the capital city they would be helping to create. And that city… which, for the most part, now encompasses the entire district (and not just a small part of it as it once did) and has a big population. In today’s time, it is hard to imagine that there are American citizens still not being fully represented in Congress just because they live in that nation’s capital. This screams of irony. For any politicians that is not for granting DC a full voting member in the House by some means, I think it’s time we send them back to an American History class so they can be reminded of why we had problems with Great Britain. And if opponents want to scream that its unconstitutional for DC to be granted representation or even statehood, then I say to them start leading an effort to amend the Constitution. It has been done before, and it can be done in this situation. Yes, DC will vote Democratic like any other major city does, but this should not determine if it gets a full voting member. This is about democracy and what it is to be an American. This should not be happening in the 21st century, and it needs to be rectified. All American citizens living within the US, whether they live in a state or in the federal district, should be fully represented in Congress. “No taxation without representation” is what it comes back down to. It is time for members of Congress to correct this injustice and to set things rights. For my friend Tom, and all the others that live in Washington DC, it is time for their voices to be heard and for their vote to count.