Of course residents of the District of Columbia deserve full voting representation in both houses of Congress. And the best way to achieve this is by making D.C. a state.
After being a proud resident of the District of Columbia for over five years, I have some strong opinions on this issue. I believe that D.C. should have full representation in Congress, meaning proportional representation in the House and two Senators, each with the ability to vote and participate just like any state’s representation in the two chambers.
I believe the most effective way to do this is to grant full statehood to the District of Columbia. Various other methods of giving D.C. representation in Congress have been proposed, of course, but I believe they are all inferior to full statehood for the District. Proposals to give D.C.’s delegate to the House full voting rights on the floor fall short for a number of reasons.
One, in past proposals the delegate’s vote couldn’t be the deciding vote. Well, if it can’t be the deciding vote, then it doesn’t really count anyway.
Two, recent proposals have relied upon making a political deal with Utah in which D.C. and Utah would both receive a representative and the membership of the House would be permanently increased to 437. (As you may know, any official elected from the District would likely be a Democrat, and any official elected from Utah would likely be a Republican, so they would counterbalance each other. Utah also felt slighted by the 2000 census, which awarded an 13th House seat to North Carolina instead of a 4th House seat to Utah. The Census Bureau based this apportionment on fewer than 1,000 people—while not allowing missionaries serving from Utah to be counted as part of Utah’s population. Being from North Carolina, serving a mission and going to college in Utah, and then living in the District, I am one of perhaps a handful of people with a trifold personal connection to this issue.) Now that Utah has been awarded that 4th seat because of the 2010 census, you can be sure that any feelings Utah had that D.C. should receive full representation have dissipated. Beyond that, D.C. should receive full voting rights because it’s the right thing, not as the result of a political deal.
Third, retrocession to Maryland is in no one’s interest. D.C. isn’t interested, Maryland isn’t interested. Solving the issue of D.C. representation by wiping D.C. off the map is clearly not a reasonable solution.
Likewise, the suggestion that D.C. residents who desire congressional representation should move elsewhere is downright offensive. That’s like telling lifelong residents of Detroit that if they want jobs they should move somewhere else, residents of Camden, New Jersey, that if they want adequate police protection they should move somewhere else, or black residents of Jackson, Mississippi, that if they don’t want to suffer racism and discrimination they should move somewhere else.
Fourth, most proposals would grant D.C. full voting rights in only the House. Further, no matter how large D.C. grows, most proposals would limit D.C. to no more representatives than the smallest state has (which for decades has been exactly one). Full representation in Congress means voting representation in both the House and the Senate, with proportional representation in the House and two senators. Beyond that, D.C. has more people than the smallest state, Wyoming, and is within about 100,000 people of the next three smallest states, Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont. And yet all four of those states enjoy full representation in America’s democracy with one representative and two senators. D.C. deserves the same.
Most opponents to D.C. voting rights call it a constitutional argument. They are really cloaking a very partisan position—the fact that Republicans oppose D.C. voting rights because it would virtually guarantee additional Democratic members of Congress—but let’s take the constitutional argument at face value. If there is anything in the Constitution that is preventing American citizens who pay taxes and serve in the Armed Forces from taking their place at the table of America’s democracy with all other taxpaying, law-abiding, military-serving Americans, then the Constitution should be amended to correct it. I would support a constitutional amendment to guarantee the District of Columbia full voting rights in Congress.
But all that gets me back to my original point: the most effective way to grant D.C. full voting rights is to grant it statehood. And if a constitutional amendment is required to grant D.C. statehood, then so be it. Some would say such an amendment is required because of the “District Clause,” Article I, Section 8, which gives Congress the 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 ….”
The original reason for creating a separate district for the national capital—so that one state would not have disproportionate sway over the federal government simply because it was the home of the federal government—is not really valid any more. Remember, the crafters of the Constitution were doing something that had never been done before: creating a type of democratic country, a republic, that had never really been tried on so grand a scale. They didn’t know what the results would be, so they included some safeguards to prevent tyranny, corruption, and concentration of power in too few hands or in one place or state—and the District Clause is one of those.
Now, 223 years after the ratification of the Constitution, I think it’s fair to say that the concerns that led to the inclusion of the District Clause are not valid. And neither are the concerns or arguments that continue to deny the residents of the District of Columbia—citizens of the United States—full representation in their national government. A country that stands for freedom and democracy around the world will surely want to ensure that democracy exists to its fullest at home. And after amendments XV, XIX, and XXVI—which extended voting rights to nonwhites, women, and all citizens 18 years and older, respectively—D.C. statehood, and Amendment XXVIII if necessary, is the last constitutional obstacle to ensuring that America’s democracy is alive, vibrant, and open to every American citizen, regardless of where he or she lives.