By: Evan Tucker
What is the strength of the franchise in America? The franchise is the device by which members of a democracy elect those who govern. The franchise’s strength, thus, is at its strongest when citizens cast votes freely and a candidate is duly elected. Conversely, the franchise is at its weakest when it is adversely affected by some entity, intending to weaken the effect of the franchise (e.g. gerrymandering or substantial changes to election type/voting procedures). The franchise in the District of Columbia is somewhere in between. There, the franchise is not weakened by intentional actions taken by the government, but instead by constitutional defect. Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution assigns to Congress the plenary power to legislate in the District. Citizens of the District, however, do not have voting members in either house of Congress. Most recognize this democratic tension as “taxation without representation,” which was one of the basis for America’s split with Britain. But the story is not that simple.