By: Mary Boothe
November is coming fast, and with it, a much anticipated election season. But, while many voters around the nation are looking forward to the opportunity to effect change at the presidential, congressional, and local levels, D.C. residents are looking forward to possibly changing their (lack of) statehood status in order to gain an equally representative voice within the federal government.
The U.S. Constitution, Art. 1 Section 8 Clause 17, 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 . . ..”
This clear Constitutional provision, delineating a federal city, establishes the boundaries of what we know today as the District of Columbia. It also greatly limits the type of representation D.C.’s citizens can expect, placing Congress at the head of local legislative and budgetary decisions with only a non-voting D.C. Congressional delegate to protect residents’ interests. While D.C. does have a mayor and city council, they serve at the pleasure of Congress, and could be eliminated at Congress’s request.
In attempt to remedy the lack of federal representation D.C. residents have faced for over 200 years, the Statehood Yes campaign has successfully lobbied to give D.C. residents the option to vote for statehood by ballot initiative in November. Of course, the November ballot initiative is just the first step. From there, the initiative faces an uphill battle in Congress, where such initiatives have failed in the past.
If D.C. is ratified as America’s 51st state, tentatively named New Columbia, residents would be granted full voting rights in federal elections to elect at least one representative to the House of Representatives and two senators to the Senate.
Proponents of D.C. becoming America’s 51st state argue that currently D.C.’s over 670,000 residents face representational disenfranchisement. In essence, proponents arguments center around equality, with the age-old tagline “no taxation without representation.” Despite having a larger population than Vermont and Wyoming, and paying a higher federal tax rate than 22 states, D.C. residents have a history of disenfranchisement. In fact, it was not until 1964 that residents received the right to vote in Presidential elections, and D.C. residents are still unable to elect federal Congressional representatives.
Meanwhile, critics argue that a New Columbia state would be significantly favored by the federal government over the remaining 50 states. After all, the federal government would be its largest employer and the new state would solely control utility and infrastructure management on which the federal government would rely. Critics also worry that with no rural land, the new state would prioritize urban concerns. Not to mention, there are underlying partisan concerns as the new state would be likely to elect primarily Democrats.
Instead, opponents offer alternative solutions to D.C.’s representation problem. One such solution is retrocession. Retrocession is the idea that the land in dispute (the area which could be separated from the federal district) be returned to the state it originally came from, in this case, Maryland. By retroceding to Maryland, D.C. residents would gain the representative rights other citizens enjoy, such as the opportunity to vote for congressional representation. However, some D.C. residents feel distinctive differences between themselves and Marylanders make retrocession unacceptable answer.
This November, D.C. residents will attempt once again to bring voter disenfranchisement to the forefront of the political arena. From there, it is a gamble as to whether the initiative gains political traction or dies in Congress. However, if history is any indicator, D.C. residents have an uphill battle ahead of them. Nevertheless, with their right to equal representation at stake, D.C. residents are going to the polls this November hopeful.