A question of representation

What does it feel like to be a second-class citizen?

Ask this question to D.C. residents, and you’ll get some weird looks. But District citizens are still one group of American citizens that have no voting representation in Congress.

The District has one non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. The delegate cannot vote on any issue relating to the enactment of laws. The District’s local government and mayor are elected by the people but are subject to congressional review. The congressional committee that oversees the District can overrule any action taken by the mayor and/or city council.

But a new study shows that most Americans support a congressional vote for D.C. residents. The survey, conducted by public opinion researcher Mark David Richards of Bisconti Research Inc., shows 72 percent of United States adults, 69 percent of college graduates who are registered to vote, and 82 percent of state and local elected officials believe District citizens should have equal voting rights in Congress.

The survey also found more support for passing an Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment in the District than for granting statehood for the District or for a merger with Maryland for the purpose of congressional elections.

The Coalition for D.C. Representation in Congress Education Fund, or D.C. Vote, is a nonpartisan group of concerned citizens and organizations that have pooled their resources around a single goal – to bring full voting representation in Congress to the citizens of D.C.

D.C. Vote recruits leaders, citizens and organizations from across the country to speak out on behalf of their campaign. They also have organized a local campaign urging District residents to volunteer and to combine forces to bring the issue of representation to the attention of Congress. One of D.C. Vote’s biggest efforts has been a petition drive. The group’s goal is to deliver hundreds of thousands of signatures to the president and to members of Congress, demonstrating the national and local support for full-District voting representation in Congress.

There has been 200 years of no representation in the District, said Joe Sternlieb, president of D.C. Vote. We live in the greatest democracy in the world, and I would estimate that things are going to change in the next several years.

Having representation in Congress would allow District residents to have a voice in affairs that affect their lives. GW students who are registered voters in the District would also be affected by the D.C. Vote initiative.

Everything that citizens are affected by affects students are well, Sternlieb said. We have not made enough of a push on college campuses to get students involved with our cause, but (GW President) Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was been involved since the beginning.

Last year on campus, the Student Association and College Democrats began the GW Votes program. It was an initiative to get students registered to vote in the District.

It is important for students to be involved here because it is such a small area, Jeff Marootian, who has been involved with GW Votes. What goes on in the District affects all of us, and as college students we have the ability to make a difference.

But not everyone supports District representation in Congress.

The District is supposed to be a neutral ground, said Jennifer Thomson, board member of the GW College Republicans. Granting representation to the District takes away from the history of D.C., and the reason why it is only given a territorial space between Maryland and Virginia.

CRs believe it is important for people in the District to have a voice but not by a seat in Congress. While CRs try to get students registered to vote, the group’s efforts are aimed more toward getting students registered in their own states and not in the District.

It is more important for students to be registered in their own states because the District is controlled by Democrats, and the Republicans will never take control of the city, Thomson said. If students register in their own home states, their vote has a stronger pull for the party than it would ever have here.

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