DC Voting Rights

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I noticed that the license plates on the cars included the motto, "Taxation without Representation." Citizens of Washington, DC, have no representation in Congress, either in the Senate or in the House of Representatives. Although they can vote for president, thanks to the 23rd Amendment (ratified in 1961), they cannot vote for representatives to advocate for their needs in the Legislative branch of government. In fact, even their representation in presidential voting is potentially watered down--more on this later. The American Revolution was fought, in part, because citizens of the British colonies in the New World had no control over laws being considered in the British Parliament, even though they were often directly affected by them. "No Taxation without Representation" was a battle cry during the eighteenth century campaign against injustice in the colonies, and it is the battle cry of a new generation of aggrieved citizens today. It is an affront to equality and justice that American citizens who reside in the District of Columbia have no representation in Congress, and it is time for people of faith to support DC citizens' plea to be treated like other U.S. citizens.

House bill H.R. 5388, the "District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act of 2006," was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Tom Davis of VA and cosponsored by 43 other members of Congress, including Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate to Congress from the District of Columbia. This bill would give citizens of Washington, DC, one voting member in the House of Representatives. Since that member would probably be a Democrat, based on DC citizens' voting patterns, the bill also increases the number of representatives in the House from 435 to 437. One of the extra representatives would be the representative from DC; the other extra representative would go to Utah, which narrowly missed out on receiving a fourth representative in the reapportionment following the 2000 census. Since the extra representative from Utah would probably be a Republican, those who put the bill together were able to maintain a balance of power and get bipartisan support. Unfortunately, attempts in the past week to push the bill through Congress failed when the Republican leadership of the House refused to let it come to the floor for a vote.

While I'm sorry that the bill won't be considered, I don't think this bill is the solution to the problem facing DC citizens. The problem that they face stems from a provision in the U.S. Constitution, Article 1 Section 2, which says, "The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States." Because Washington, DC, is not a state and is not a part of any state, its citizens are deprived of their most important right as citizens, the right to vote. Even the 23rd Amendment, which allows DC residents to vote in presidential elections, discriminates against them. The amendment says, in part, "A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State" shall be appointed to the Electoral College. We'll save for another time my arguments for getting rid of the Electoral College and going to direct election of the president by popular vote. For now, it is sufficient to note that even in presidential elections, citizens of DC are limited to three electoral votes, even if their actual population entitled them to more (not a problem at present).

For residents of Washington, DC, the only truly equitable solution to their lack of representation in Congress is statehood. Article 4 Section 3 of the Constitution provides for the addition of new states to the union, and it is time for Washington, DC, to become the 51st state. An alternative solution would be to include the citizens of DC in the Maryland delegation, but this approach, though it would give DC citizens representation, is not sufficient. Washington, DC, has a distinct culture, history, and population, unlike that of neighboring Maryland or Virginia. It deserves the right to become a state, and its citizens deserve the right to full representation in Congress and in presidential elections. They deserve the right to be full citizens of the United States.

© Copyright 2006, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology