When advocates successfully put the slogan “Taxation Without Representation” on District license plates in 2000, they viewed the move as a victory. But four years later, the city is still no closer to gaining a vote in Congress than it was in 1800.
When D.C. was formed, it was established outside the jurisdiction of any state to avoid it being influenced by state interests, which currently leaves its 500,000 citizens without voting representation in the legislative branch. As a result, when city residents go to the polls on Tuesday, they will only be able to choose one nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives; they have no elected voice in the Senate.
There are several interest groups fighting to keep this cause a relevant issue, attempting to spread the word about what they call an “unconstitutional injustice.”
Some members of Congress are also struggling to keep bills alive that push voting representation for the city; their efforts so far have been fruitless. D.C. historian and sociologist Mark David Richards said citizens have been “trying to get equal voting rights since 1801.”
Since the establishment of D.C. as the nation’s capital in 1800, there has been an ongoing battle over the importance of congressional power in the city. Various movements over the years have attempted to make progress, with big pushes occurring in the 1920s and 1940s. It was only in 1961 that D.C. residents received the right to vote for president.
In 1978, during the Carter administration, Congress passed an amendment for D.C. to have two senators and one representative. The attempt failed during the ratification process in the states.
“What happened was that the Reagan revolution was in the making, and once he framed the District as welfare cheats and the city had corruption, the climate of the country just changed,” Richards said earlier this year.
There was a push for D.C. to gain statehood in 1993, but the bill failed in the Senate by 63 votes. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced legislation this year that would make the District a state. Analysts are doubtful that the bill will move forward because of financial reasons.
“The equal footing clause states that no territory can be eligible for statehood unless it can enter on equal footing,” Kevin Kiger, communications director for D.C. Vote, said. “By the government accounting reports, the District of Columbia has an annual $1.1 billion deficit.”
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who can propose legislation in the House but cannot vote, drafted a bill that would treat D.C. as any other state with two senators and one representative. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate.
Norton, who will be seeking election to her eighth term in Congress Tuesday, has proposed similar legislation in the past with little success. Doxie McCoy, a spokesperson for Norton, attributed the failure to secure voting rights in the past to Republicans who do not want to see the city gain Democratic votes.
“Congress just hasn’t gone for it,” McCoy said. “It’s partisan – the city is heavily Democratic and most likely it will bring a Democratic representative.”
Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) proposed the “D.C.-MD Reunion Act,” which would make the District a part of Maryland for Congressional voting purposes. The bill has been proposed in every Congress since 1991. Similarly, Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) proposed the “D.C. Voting Restoration Act,” which would treat city residents like Maryland residents and assign them representatives from that state. Those bills face challenges from the same advocates who want full congressional representation and statehood.
“(Joining Maryland) would give residents everything they want, including a legislature, autonomy and congressional districts,” Kiger said. “But does that mean people who lived in the District for nine generations would want to become part of Maryland?”
The likelihood of any of these bills passing is slim because Congress’s session is almost through, so the bills will all die on Jan. 2. But it is likely that some of these bills will be reintroduced when the 109th Congress convenes.
For two centuries, activists have tried to get voting representation for the city, but “the stars have not aligned,” Richards said.
Some wonder why D.C. residents consistently fail to gain the right to vote for congressional leaders, given that the city revolves around the arms of democracy. According to D.C. Votes, a voting rights advocacy group, Washington is the only democratic capitol in the world that lacks a voice in its country’s legislative body.
The problem lies within the power struggle in Congress – the city is heavily Democratic, with 85 percent of its citizens voting Al Gore for president in 2000. If D.C. were to gain two Democratic senators and a Democratic representative, Congress’s balance of power could potentially be skewed in the party’s favor.
Kiger said the only way to achieve the goal of full voting representation in D.C. is through education. He said many residents do not realize the issue exists and are subsequently doing nothing about it. He also said citizens across the country should become aware of the situation-since D.C. residents cannot vote on the issue, it is up to other states to decide the city’s fate.
Kiger also attributed the failure of proposals such as the Norton-Lieberman plan to Republican opposition to D.C. voting rights; the GOP has controlled the presidency, House and Senate since 2002.
“George Bush is on the record in two places making statements that he is against representation, and that is terribly disappointing to not only D.C. Votes but to the residents who have had support from almost all other presidents,” Kiger said.