Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Completing the American Revolution

A dozen reasons why the U.S. Senate should vote to approve voting rights for District residents when the issue comes before them as soon as next week:

• It's good politics for Republicans. At a moment when you're stuck with the blame for a war gone bad, this is a chance to claim the moral high ground and do right by half a million disenfranchised Americans. Yes, this gives the other guys a lock on a new House seat, but the beauty of this bill is that it is politically neutral because it also creates an extra, assuredly Republican, seat for Utah.

• It's good politics for Democrats. With a decent chunk of your base grumbling that you've caved to the GOP on the war, here's a chance to reestablish what you're supposed to be about: extending rights to those who have been left out.

• It will play well beyond our borders. By passing this one bill, you can silence our critics in Beijing, Berlin and beyond who win rhetorical points by chastising us for depriving American citizens of a basic right. "America is the only democracy in the world that denies voting representation to its capital's residents," says Ilir Zherka, executive director of the D.C. Vote advocacy group. "That hypocrisy must end."

• It affirms the bedrock principles we're supposed to be exporting to Iraq. "How can we fight to bring democracy to Baghdad and not do the same for D.C.?" asks Rep. Tom Davis, the Fairfax Republican who is the author of the D.C. voting rights bill.

• It's constitutional. You may hear otherwise from the anti crowd, but a remarkable array of scholars, spanning the ideological spectrum, have concluded that the Founders never intended to deny the vote to any Americans. (Alexander Hamilton even proposed that once the new city's population reached a reasonable level, Congress should grant its residents the vote.)

• It's Congress's job. District residents voted in federal elections until 1801, when Congress converted land formerly controlled by Virginia and Maryland into a separate jurisdiction, deciding that its residents could no longer vote. Congress has the same authority to reverse itself, say scholars such as Kenneth Starr and Patricia Wald, political opposites who sat together on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. "Congress," Davis says, "has the power under the District Clause to determine by legislation the rights of District residents to representation, just as it has given those residents access to the federal courts."

• The D.C. vote is the premier civil-rights issue of this era. "This is a landmark moment in the story of expanding voting and civil rights in this country," says Mike Panetta, the District's elected shadow representative. "Senators need to ask themselves if they are going to do the right thing, or will they risk being lumped with the likes of George Wallace in the history books?"

• It may not be in play today, but the black vote is not going to be monolithic for the Democrats forever. "I would like some day for African Americans to feel more at home in the Republican Party than they have in the past 70 years," says Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican supporter of D.C. rights. Or, as Jack Kemp, the former GOP congressman who is a District resident and longtime advocate for a D.C. vote, puts it: "A presidential veto on this would consign the Republican Party in perpetuity to 8 to 10 percent of the black vote."

• D.C. residents pay taxes and contribute to Social Security and Medicaid, yet, unlike all other Americans, play no role in determining how those dollars are spent.

• Washington is not a community of transients, nor can most of its residents vote "back home." Well more than half of District residents have lived in the city for more than 20 years. And the District's size is no factor here: Wyoming has far fewer residents, yet it has two senators and a representative in Congress.

• District residents must serve on federal juries to enforce our laws, yet, as Zherka says, "don't have a vote when those laws are made."

• Darryl Dent, 21, killed when an explosive device hit his vehicle in Iraq. Darrell Lewis, 31, killed in Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and small-arms fire. Kevin Shea, 38, killed in Iraq by rocket fire. These are U.S. service members who gave their lives in the current wars although they hailed from a place where voters have no say in their nation's choices on war and peace.

By Marc Fisher |  September 13, 2007; 7:36 AM ET
Previous: Can A Garden Cut Crime? | Next: RFQ: Why Do Banks Still Have Branches?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

If you want voting representation move out of DC. Congress should just leave things the way they are for DC. Liberal white yuppies in DC should always be disenfranchised! And since we just cant give the vote to the Asian Americans, African Americans and other minorites residing in DC who are US citizens they will have to suffer because of Marc and his ilk!

The country has run fine for 200+ years without DC residents having voting representation in Congress why change things now to make Marc happy.

Move to MD Marc. I am sure you can find a nice $2 million MCmansion that is equal to your place in upper NW.

Posted by: vaherder | September 13, 2007 8:18 AM

"No taxation without representation." Fine. End DC taxation.

Make DC a tax-free zone and watch it prosper. When that happens DC will be a capital magnet and no one will care if we have the vote or not.

Let's face it: the only DC folks really interested in this issue are the political crowd. Eleanor Holmes-Norton wants to be a "real" Congressman or Senator. Adrian Fenty, I'm sure, would love to be a Congressman or Senator as well. And, Jesse Jackson would like to convert from shadow Senator status to real Senator (of course, he'd have to establish DC residency first). Aside from the pols, and Dem partisans who want to use DC to tip or hold the Congressional balance, no one really cares.

Posted by: DC2007MAN | September 13, 2007 8:42 AM

The bill in question gives DC a vote in the House of Representatives, where representation is determined by population, and addresses petty partisan concerns by giving heavily Republican Utah an additional vote now instead of waiting for the re-apportionment which will follow the next US Census.

Here is another advocate of DC voting rights - Andrew Jackson, from his 3rd State of the Union Address (1832):

I deem it my duty again to call your attention to the condition of the District of Columbia. It was doubtless wise in the framers of our Constitution to place the people of this District under the jurisdiction of the General Government, but to accomplish the objects they had in view it is not necessary that this people should be deprived of all the privileges of self-government. Independently of the difficulty of inducing the representatives of distant States to turn their attention to projects of laws which are not of the highest interest to their constituents, they are not individually, nor in Congress collectively, well qualified to legislate over the local concerns of this District. Consequently its interests are much neglected, and the people are almost afraid to present their grievances, lest a body in which they are not represented and which feels little sympathy in their local relations should in its attempt to make laws for them do more harm than good.

Posted by: Mike Licht | September 13, 2007 8:51 AM

Marc, I hope you got the Dent, Lewis, Shea families' OK before you exploited those tragic deaths for your political views.

Posted by: e | September 13, 2007 9:11 AM

vaherder Time to take your medication. Maybe see a professional. Either way get some help.

Posted by: jrlemx | September 13, 2007 9:43 AM

They need guns more than they do representation.

Posted by: Stick | September 13, 2007 9:54 AM

While the granting of voting rights may play well internationally, I've found that in my travels around the country for work most people really don't care about this issue and their representatives are fully aware of their feelings. Until this becomes a true national hot button issue, I really don't think that voting rights will happen.

To state that someone should move out of DC to get voting rights is such a lame and cliche statement. At least put forth the effort to think up something original and not a statement that has been repeated over and over by the ignorant.

Posted by: Washington, DC | September 13, 2007 9:58 AM

Are you serious about this? We District residents don't have voting rights? Really? When did this happen? This is outrageous! Why didn't they tell me before I bought my house here?

Posted by: KK | September 13, 2007 9:59 AM


The right to vote is a political view?

Did you get permission from the families to use their names to chastice Marc for using them in your post?

Posted by: jrlemx | September 13, 2007 10:06 AM

vaherder, that's a really good idea.

I think moving 500,000 people to the suburbs is 100% the way to go. Of course, there's not that many free houses around, but we can work around that.

I'm not sure where you live, but here in Springfield I have 1 spare bedroom to donate. How many can you take in?

We can't make it work unless we all pitch in! Since it was your idea, I'm sure you have lots of space to donate.

Posted by: Jeff | September 13, 2007 10:14 AM

If you have to get approval from Congress to vote then, yes, I would say that it is a political view. If it wasn't a political view why wouldn't this issue already be resolved?

Posted by: Washington, DC | September 13, 2007 10:14 AM

How ever do they keep this city running?

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | September 13, 2007 10:22 AM

"the premier civil rights issue of the era"??? really? i support dc voting rights, but i'm sorry, it's just not as pressing an issue as say, civil rights for gays and lesbians, recent supreme court decisions limiting free speech, etc...

Posted by: morningstar | September 13, 2007 10:23 AM

While Marc makes some good points, some of his arguments are much weaker than others. The key distinction is whether DC gets treated like a state or like a territory. The strong arguments are on issues where DC residents bear the same responsibilities as residents of states (such as paying federal income taxes) that territorial residents don't. Serving in the military, however, is something that citizens residing in other U.S. territories also do, and no one is making the case that they deserve voting representation in Congress without going through the statehood process first. Basically, you need to apply the Puerto Rico test to see if DC residents are really getting slighted in a particular instance or issue.

Posted by: Dan | September 13, 2007 10:29 AM

The answer is very clear:

Either give DC residents voting rights or allow them to legally not pay federal taxes. Currently they are being federally taxed in clear violation of the Constitution.

Congress can't have its cake and eat it too.

And jrlemx: Learn how to type and spell.

Posted by: DC Resident | September 13, 2007 10:31 AM

I don't care if DC has a vote. DC is an ultra-liberal tax-you-till-you-drop quaigmire with a do-nothing bureacracy, pathetic schools and murderous crime. DC can't focus on its own problems at hand and solve them so they cry about other issues. If I was a DC resident I'd worry more about getting crime off the streets and the schools improved. If you think I"m wrong then answer me this question: Would you rather your politicians give their energies to making the street safer and getting criminals behind bars and getting the best education or instead focus all their energies on getting the vote? I know how Marc thinks - his kids go to private school.

Posted by: Steven7753 | September 13, 2007 10:33 AM

DC Resident. Yes that typo/misspelled word really is a big deal. thanks for pointing it out. I am so ashamed.

Posted by: Jrlemx | September 13, 2007 10:43 AM

I know you want to wash away the technical aspects of creating a House seat for a non-state, but it's actually an interesting conundrum. The DC Voting Rights Act only *amends* the apportionment clause of the Constitution, Article I, Section 2, but it doesn't purport to amend the clause regarding who is eligible to vote for a Representative.

According to that section of the Constitution, a prospective Congressional voter must meet the qualifications necessary to vote for the State legislature. Is DC planning to rename the City Council to accommodate this rule, or will it create a new state legislature from scratch? (I'm assuming that Bush signs the bill when presented to him and that the courts don't strike it down).

If Congress apportions a House seat to DC but no one in DC is eligible to vote for it, does the Act do anything more than create a new seat for Utah? If the courts uphold the constitutionality of the act, the nonseverability clauses won't kick in simply because no one figures out how to practically implement it.

Posted by: athea | September 13, 2007 10:45 AM

Dan: Congress has been no less capricious with Puerto Rico. As I understand it, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico do not have U.S. voting rights, do not pay IRS personal income taxes (except for federal employees), pay federal payroll and social security taxes but are excluded from receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and were subject to the military draft. Puerto Rico receives less than 15% of the Medicaid funding it would be allotted as a state and pays Medicare fully but receives only partial benefits.

Due to these and other differences, DC-Puerto Rico comparisons only muddy the water. The issues should be addressed separately.

Posted by: Mike Licht | September 13, 2007 10:56 AM

For the record, 30,000 noncitizens are now serving in the US armed forces, 2 percent of the active-duty force. Legal nonresidents have enlisted and fought in all US wars.

The fact that residents of the District of Columbia were drafted for compulsory military service in previous wars seems a more compelling moral argument for representation. That is the reason why 18-year-olds were given the vote.

Posted by: Mike Licht | September 13, 2007 11:14 AM

Two words, Thank you.

I agree with everything you've said Marc, and for those that disagree, God Bless your souls.

Posted by: DC Man | September 13, 2007 12:11 PM

Marc: Well written item. I guess I like the piece because I agree with it. I also enjoy reading the comments on the items you write because its clear from some of these postings that these authors truely failed to develop a thought process while occupying a chair in the classroom (that assumes they actually went to school). I guess our DC schools are just like schools in other parts of the country in that they turn out the same finished product.

Posted by: DC Person | September 13, 2007 1:12 PM

For a more balanced (ahem) view of this issue, see:

Note in particular the mention of someone at the New York ratifying convention who made note of the fact that DC residents wouldn't have a voice in Congress. To say that the "Framers", who wrote the darn thing, weren't aware of this and didn't intend it, is rubbish. This situation was not a historical accident.

Also, whether the bill is constitutional depends on how you interpret a 1949 Supreme Court case called National Mutual Insurance v. Tidewater (this is also in the Wiki link). Note that BOTH SIDES of this issue point to this case for support. To make a blanket assertion, with no qualification at all, that this bill is constitutional, is irresponsible.

Posted by: John Roberts | September 13, 2007 1:39 PM

There are two basic reasons for giving DC a real vote in Congress.

1. It is the right thing to do regardless of your political affiliation or ideology.

2. About 30 - 40 percent of the Virginia hating liberals in NOVA would move back accross the river where they belong.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | September 13, 2007 1:45 PM


You talk as if humans are incapable of championing more than one cause at a time. Believe it or not, it is possible to care about crime, schools, and DC voting rights -- at least for those of us with more than half a brain. That's why I love living in DC. I get to be far away from dolts like you.

Posted by: dcdude | September 13, 2007 1:46 PM

John Roberts,

I have no problem with people who argue that there are constitutional arguments against granting DC the vote through statute. Reasonable people can disagree on that issue. It's fools like veherder and Steven7753, who argure that DC doesn't deserve representation because of its social problems or it's political leanings that really get my goat.

Posted by: dcdude | September 13, 2007 1:55 PM

The only sound way of giving DC residents representation would be to allow the residential parts of the city to revert back to Maryland. Arlington used to be part of DC and it reverted to Virginia long ago.

Posted by: Fomer DC resident | September 13, 2007 3:51 PM

Athea: The Federal Government has long regarded the Government of the District of Columbia as a state government-equivalent for many purposes, and has allowed DC citizens to vote for representatives of the District Council, the legislative branch of DC Government, for some years now. Your concern is unwarranted.

Posted by: Mike Licht | September 13, 2007 4:08 PM

Maryland officials have repeatedly stated that they do not want to annex DC. The Feds don't want this either (DC tax revenues pay for the infrastructure required to run Federal buildings in DC. The Feds would have to pick up the tab). And most importantly, DC residents don't want it. Why should we become subject to the government of MD in order to enjoy voting representation in Congress?

Posted by: dcdude | September 13, 2007 4:21 PM

I don't want to be a part of Maryland. I could move there if that was where I wanted to live. There is nothing wrong with Maryland but it is not Washington DC.

Forget a voting member of the House. Scrap the idea of giving Utah another seat. Give another seat in the House to Virginia, and let us all vote for House and Senate members in Virginia.

Would do wonders for the Repugnicans down there to be squelched for awhile.

Posted by: Jerry | September 13, 2007 4:36 PM

vaherder, please feel free to jump onto the tracks of an oncoming train. You never cease to amaze us with your uneducated two cents on a subject that is absoutely none of your business. I only wish that one of your sheep (or girlfriends as you call them) kicks your arse off of a tall cliff. You are a quadpolar idiot.

Posted by: miles | September 13, 2007 8:54 PM

Thank you, Marc, on behalf of my family, which includes a three year old child.

Posted by: Mark in Ward 2 | September 13, 2007 11:28 PM

If DC wants voting rights, start treating it like a state. Stop throwing money at every federal event that happens in the city. Lets see if the DC can operate financially like its big brothers to the North and South. We all know it will fall flat on its face.

DC has a high crime rate, huge poverty, horrific schools. What is anything substantial DC has done without screwing up. The city cries racism at the drop of a bucket. When you elect a crack addict to one of the biggest position in your city, it hardly shows that the residents take the right to vote seriously.

Also two things that are just wrong: This is not the biggest civil rights problem. No one for the most part outside of DC cares. It would also be really stupid for republicans to do this, because you are giving up at least one guaranteed seat to the left every year. What happens when redistricting occurs. The Utah seat is not guaranteed. What happens if DC population grows and they demand a second seat? Its too risky.

Posted by: Jon | September 14, 2007 9:22 AM

Yes, Jon, start treating us like a state. Remove the $470 million/yr structural deficit that DC faces as a result of having a Federal presence here. We'll gladly take it. Read the 2003 GAO report on the issue, dimwit. But it's nice to see that you're willing to keep U.S. citizens disenfranchised if it means keeping your party in power. You confirm everything I ever thought about people like you. Thanks

Posted by: dcdude | September 14, 2007 9:40 AM

Although I do not support statehood for DC (unless we on MD's Eastern Shore are granted our own state), I do support a congressional representative for DC. Furthermore, I think a rise of at least one-hundred members for the House of Representatives is called for. The 435 was fixed about 100 years ago when the USA had only just passed the 100 million population mark. In contrast, the United Kingdom, population 60 million, has over 650 seats in parliament today.

Posted by: D Leaberry | September 14, 2007 10:43 AM

VA has a large amount of federal activity and it doesn't need the government to keep it afloat. It has the worlds largest group of offices, among other things. DC was not ever meant to be a state.

I'm still waiting for a list of things DC has done correctly. Also, you DO know your not getting representation when you move to DC. Lets face it, most people in DC moved there and are not local. You have a choice. There are plenty of inexpensive apartments in Northern VA and MD. Living in DC is a choice for 99% of the people out there.

Posted by: Jon | September 14, 2007 2:20 PM

Once again, read the GAO report, genious. Roughly 40% of the land in DC is owned by the Federal Government or foreign embassies, and is thus not taxable. Can VA say the same thing? Ummm no. Further more, VA has a State government that can send money to NOVA from other parts of the State to make up for whatever Federal presence it does have. DC does not. I can name a lot of great things about DC. We're one of the most literate cities in the country. We have a vibrant cultural scene. But ultimately, none of that matters. Whatever challenges we face have nothing to do with whether we, as US citizens, should be denied the fundamental right of having a voice in our government. As for saying "if you don't like it, move." That is the dumbest thing to come out of your mouth yet. Can you imagine if Thomas Jefferson had said "Hey colonists, don't like British tyranny? Move to Canada!" Or if MLK had told black people "Don't like being firehosed and treated like second-class citizens? Move to Mexico!" Injustice is injustice wherever it appears. You're just too blind to recognize it.

Posted by: dcdude | September 14, 2007 3:12 PM

Also, you are flat wrong about most DC residents not being from DC. Well over half of DC residents have lived here 20 years or more. Get informed.

Posted by: dcdude | September 14, 2007 3:15 PM

I have never posted on this comments section and probably will never again, but I cannot allow some of the ignorant statements to stand. If the judge of the "right" to have representation in the House or Senate is that you have to run a well functioning government then I want the following to lose their representation:
The entire state of Louisiana
Orange County, CA (went BANKRUPT)
New York City
Everywhere in the South (most of this country's dropouts come from 7 southern states)

Note: I was bipartisan in my choice of disenfranchisement, and focused on urban, suburban, and rural situations. My point, that is not the test in the Constitution. These poorly run local and state governments get representation whether they take care of home well or not. And, the idiots that these people send to Congress then get a say over my local choices such as whether we can have medical marijuana, private school vouchers, needle exchange? Not even.

This issue should not be about politics or race (which some of these veiled comments have been clearly based upon) or social class (from the upper-middle class to poor have been denigrated in comments posted here) but about basic fairness. The test should be, how would you want to be treated if you came to live in DC for whatever reasons? Or, if like me, your birth certificate says "Washington, DC" in place of birth.

Finally, for those of my fellow DC citizens who did move here from other places, they should forgo the things they like about urban living because they "knew" what they were getting into? That's ridiculous. Many of them may not have known. But many choose to live closer to their jobs, forgo having a car and thus must live in the city, stayed after completing college education in one of our fine universities, and many other reasons why someone might choose to live in the city rather than the suburbs. That's like saying we should empty the island of Manhattan because it's better in Jersey.

Sorry for the long post, but some of these comments are just ridiculous.

Posted by: KarenFromDC | September 14, 2007 4:51 PM

Jon wrote: "Lets face it, most people in DC moved there and are not local."

Jon: Your ignorance is showing. Can you cite even a single datapoint that backs your claim up?

Posted by: Mark | September 15, 2007 8:42 AM

EXACTLY why I made the country's first and only CONSERVATIVE MUSIC CD. Someone had to do it! ('Blaming America First!')

Posted by: Lance | September 15, 2007 11:05 AM

I haven't seen anything that says Jon is wrong. DC has a lot of people move in and out with administrations and elections. I have lived here for 28 years and the vast vast majority of people I meet that are locals are from the suburbs.

Why on earth would you want to raise your kids in DC? The schools are some of the worst in the US. The only part that is decent to raise a family is so expensive that the schools would be a non-issue (foxhall etc). The residential Neighborhoods of SW,NE and SE have been (or probably are) crime infested neighborhoods. Face it, most people that live in DC are not born in the city. Until I see facts otherwise, I am just going to use common sense (Of course DC has never had much of that.

DC was never meant to be a state, just because a bunch of liberals want an extra vote doesn't mean you get one.

Posted by: THere are no Locals | September 16, 2007 1:00 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company