Voting rights in the District of Columbia

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Since 1801, citizens of the District of Columbia have not been entitled to the same voting rights as citizens from U.S. states. Since the early 1960s, various attempts have been made in the U.S. Congress to provide and increase voting rights for District citizens. Proposals have included making the District a state, providing the District with only House representation, and allowing District citizens to vote as Maryland citizens in federal elections. Several pieces of legislation were introduced in the 109th Congress, but none received a vote on the floor. The 110th Congress is expected to consider the issue.

Contents

Background

In 1790, Congress accepted the cession by Maryland and Virginia of a ten-square-mile area which would constitute the District of Columbia and be home to the new federal government of the United States. Residents of the District would continue to have the same legal rights, including that to vote in federal and state elections, which they had possessed as residents of both Maryland and Virginia. Through 1800, residents voted for members of the House and for members of the Maryland and Virginia Legislatures, which then elected members to the Senate.[1][2]

In 1801, after the federal government had completed its move to the District, Congress passed the Organic Act of 1801, which provided for governance of the nation's capital but contained no provision for District residents to vote in federal, state, or local-level elections. District citizens have not had voting representation in Congress since.[3][4]

Rally on 4/16/07

According to organizers, approximately 5,000 people showed up to demonstrate for full representation for the District in Congress. This demonstration was held on the Monday of a week when the House of Representatives was expected to approve the District of Columbia Fair and Equal Voting Rights Act of 2007. [5]

Legislation in the 110th Congress

District of Columbia Fair and Equal Voting Rights Act of 2007

Granting the District a vote in the House of Representatives was a goal of the Democratic leaders of the House during the 110th Congress. A bill, (H.R.328) to grant the District a voting House member, as well as give an additional seat to Utah, was the primary piece of legislation introduced to achieve this aim.

Main article: District of Columbia Fair and Equal Voting Rights Act of 2007

Past legislative action

Twenty-Third Amendment

On June 16, 1960, Congress passed the Twenty-Third Amendment to the Constitution, granting District residents the right to vote in presidential elections. The text of the amendment, which was ratified by the necessary 38 states on March 29, 1861, reads:[6]

The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but in no event more than the least populous state; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the states, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a state; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.[7]

Non-voting delegate

In 1970, Congress granted the District a nonvoting delegate to the House.[8]

District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment

In the late 1970s, Congress passed a constitutional amendment providing the District with full representation in both the House and Senate. The amendment then needed 38 of the 50 state legislatures to ratify it within seven years time. Ultimately, only 16 did so, and the amendment was rendered void.

On July 25, 1977, Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) introduced the amendment, called the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment (H.J.Res. 554), in the House. It was approved on March 2, 1978 with a vote of 289-127, and was later passed by the Senate on August 22, 1978 with a vote of 67-32. The full text of the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment reads:[9]

Section 1. For purposes of representation in the Congress, election of the President and Vice President, and article V of this Constitution, the District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall be treated as though it were a State.[10]
Section 2. The exercise of the rights and powers conferred under this article shall be by the people of the District constituting the seat of government, and as shall be provided by the Congress.[11]
Section 3. The twenty-third article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.[12]
Section 4. This article shall be inoperative, unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.[13]

The following is a list of the 16 states that approved the amendment and the dates in which they did so:

  • New Jersey: September 11, 1978
  • Michigan: December 12, 1978
  • Ohio: December 21, 1978
  • Minnesota: March 19, 1979
  • Massachusetts: March 19, 1979
  • Connecticut: April 11, 1979
  • Wisconsin: November 1, 1979
  • Maryland: March 19, 1980
  • Hawaii: April 17, 1980
  • Oregon: July 6, 1981
  • Maine: February 16, 1983
  • West Virginia: February 23, 1983
  • Rhode Island: May 13, 1983
  • Iowa: January 19, 1984
  • Louisiana: June 24, 1984
  • Delaware: June 28, 1984

Statehood legislation

Since the 1980s, there have been various attempts in Congress to make the District a state, which would in turn provide it with the full voting rights guaranteed to all U.S. states.

In 1987, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) introduced a resolution (H.R. 51) to create a state encompassing the District. While the bill was reported out of the House Committee on the District of Columbia, no vote was taken on the House floor.[14]

On June 3, 1992, Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) introduced a constitutional amendment (H.J.Res. 501) calling for the District to be treated as though it were a state for purposes of representation in Congress (similar to the amendment which passed both houses in 1978, but was not ratified by the states). The resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where no action was taken.[15][16]

In 1993, a bill termed the New Columbia Admission Act (H.R. 51) was introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). The measure, which would have made the District a state named "New Columbia," was reported from the District Committee, but failed in a floor vote, 153-277.[17]

Retrocession legislation

Various attempts have been made by legislators to allow District citizens to vote as Maryland citizens in congressional elections.

From 1989 through 2004, Rep. Ralph Regula (D-Ohio) introduced eight separate bills calling for the retrocession of the District to the state of Maryland. Each would allow District residents, for the purpose of representation in Congress and the election of the president and vice president, to be treated as citizens of, and vote in federal elections in the state of Maryland. None of Regula’s retrocession bills have ever made it out of committee.[18]

On March 6, 1990, Rep. Stanford Parris (R-Va.) introduced a similar bill (H.R. 4193), proposing to allow District residents a seat in the House of Representatives and give its residents the right to cast ballots in Maryland’s Senate elections. It would have also maintained the District’s local-governmental structure. Congress took no action on the bill.[19]

District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act of 2005

On January 4, 2005, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced legislation (H.R. 190) allowing District residents to vote in Maryland congressional elections (the increase in Maryland's voting population would lead to it receiving an additional House seat). The bill would also remove the District's three electoral votes for presidential elections and allow District citizens to vote as Maryland residents in elections for both president and vice president. The bill attracted one sponsor, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), but never made it to the floor.

Limited voting rights

1993 (103rd Congress)

From 1993 to 1995, Democratic House leaders allowed the delegate from the District (who at the time was Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), as well as the delegates from the U.S. territories, to vote in most cases so long as their ballots did not affect the outcome of a vote. After Republicans took control of the House in 1995, this right was removed.[20]

2007 (110th Congress)

On January 24, 2007, after Democrats took control of the House following the 2006 congressional elections, a rule change was again passed providing delegates and the resident commissioner with limited voting rights. The change allowed delegates and the resident commissioner (4 of 5 of whom were Democrats) to vote on the House floor in the "Committee of the Whole," whereby bills are debated and amendments are added. The rule, however, stipulated that if a delegate's vote was decisive, the committee would disband and a new vote would be taken without the non-voting members.[21]

Following the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), sponsor of the bill, admitted the change was largely symbolic, but added that “It is an opportunity for them to participate.” Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-A.S.), who had represented American Samoa in the House since 1989, supported the change by emphasizing that his “territory has the highest per capita casualty rate (in Iraq) in the whole United States.” Del. Donna Christensen (D-V.I.) said that she would have preferred to receive full voting rights, but that the rule change was "important because it's a step forward."[22]

All but one House Republican, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), opposed the change. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called it, “An outrageous grab of power by the majority,” while Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) argued it amounted to, “Representation without taxation.”[23]

No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2005

On January 26, 2005, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) introduced the No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2005 (S. 195). The bill would provide District residents with two senators (similar to a state), as well as a voting member in the House. The bill collected the following fifteen cosponsors, but has never reached the floor for a vote.

Cosponsors:

Also on January 26, 2005, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a House version of the bill. While it was able to attract 94 cosponsors, the bill also has never made it to the floor for a vote.

Three years prior, on October 3, 2002, Lieberman had introduced the same bill. On October 9, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, which Lieberman chaired at the time, approved the bill 9-0, with every Democrat on the Committee voting in favor of the bill and no Republicans attending the meeting. As in 2005, however, the bill never received a vote on the Senate floor.

Legal debate

Legal scholars disagree about the constitutionality of granting the District voting representation in Congress. Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, for instance, believes any such legislation is "flagrantly unconstitutional" because the Constitution gives representation to "the people of the several states." In his view, only a constitutional amendment can provide the District unquestioned congressional and Senate representation.[24]

Others, such as Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), sponsor of a District-voting measure discussed above, feel as though Congress has the right to grant the District voting representation in Congress. He defends this view by arguing that the courts have "never, ever overruled Congress" in its legislation affecting the district.[25]

Articles and Resources

See also

References

  1. Statement on H.R. 5388, The District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act, American Bar Association, September 14, 2006.
  2. Robert D. Evans, Letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary American Bar Association, June 16, 2006.
  3. Statement on H.R. 5388, The District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act, American Bar Association, September 14, 2006.
  4. Robert D. Evans, Letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary American Bar Association, June 16, 2006.
  5. Mary Beth Sheridan, David Nakamura and Hamil R. Harris, "Getting Out to Get a Vote," Washington Post, April 17, 2007.
  6. Twenty Third Amendment - Presidential Vote in D.C., Lawyers.com.
  7. Twenty Third Amendment - Presidential Vote in D.C., Lawyers.com.
  8. Lori Montgomery and Elissa Silverman, "D.C. Vote's Stars Are Aligning, Davis Says," Washington Post, May 12, 2006.
  9. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd, "Curing Disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia: What Hasn't Worked and Why?," Law and Society Review at UCSB, 2004.
  10. The 1978 D.C. Voting Rights Constitutional Amendment, DC Vote.
  11. The 1978 D.C. Voting Rights Constitutional Amendment, DC Vote.
  12. The 1978 D.C. Voting Rights Constitutional Amendment, DC Vote.
  13. [http://www.dcvote.org/trellis/acting/1978amendmenthjres554.cfm The 1978 D.C. Voting Rights Constitutional Amendment], DC Vote.
  14. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd, "Curing Disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia: What Hasn't Worked and Why?," Law and Society Review at UCSB, 2004.
  15. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd, "Curing Disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia: What Hasn't Worked and Why?," Law and Society Review at UCSB, 2004.
  16. Janet Naylor, "Moran bill offers District a vote, but no tax powers," Washington Times (via DC Vote), June 4, 1992.
  17. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd, "Curing Disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia: What Hasn't Worked and Why?," Law and Society Review at UCSB, 2004.
  18. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd, "Curing Disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia: What Hasn't Worked and Why?," Law and Society Review at UCSB, 2004.
  19. Jeffrey Thomas Dodd, "Curing Disenfranchisement in the District of Columbia: What Hasn't Worked and Why?," Law and Society Review at UCSB, 2004.
  20. Lori Montgomery and Elissa Silverman, "Plan to Give D.C. a Vote In Congress Advances," Washington Post, May 11, 2006.
  21. "House delegates may get partial voting rights," Associated Press (via MSNBC), January 22, 2006.
  22. "House delegates may get partial voting rights," Associated Press (via MSNBC), January 22, 2006.
  23. "House delegates may get partial voting rights," Associated Press (via MSNBC), January 22, 2006.
  24. Johanna Neuman, "Plan Would Give D.C. a House Vote - Reliably Republican Utah Would Gain a Seat Under Proposal," Los Angeles Times (via DC Vote), November 22, 2006.
  25. Johanna Neuman, "Plan Would Give D.C. a House Vote - Reliably Republican Utah Would Gain a Seat Under Proposal," Los Angeles Times (via DC Vote), November 22, 2006.

External resources

Organizations working on DC voting rights

External articles

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