Being a resident of Washington, D.C. is akin to being a sharecropper, forced to pay tribute to the landowner but having no rights in return. A cruel joke is played daily on Americans living in our nation’s capital. They sit in the shadow of monuments attesting to our democracy, live and work adjacent to the centers of American power – the White House, Capitol and Supreme Court – yet they are denied voting representation in the “People’s House,” the United States House of Representatives. For students of history who would like to see the embodiment of “taxation without representation,” visit the District of Columbia.
In no other place in this country would this situation be tolerated, except in a city of over a half million, mostly Black residents. For decades, opponents of DC voting rights used the argument against formal statehood as justification for denying Washingtonians a voting representative in Congress. The rationale was that the framers never intended for the District to be a “state,” it was specifically created as a non-state, a federal “territory,” for the sole purpose of serving as the seat of the federal government. It is as if, some two hundred years later, the ideas of the framers could not be reconsidered given present circumstances. To use “history” to deny the very rights that are fundamental to the story that history supposedly informs is a travesty.
A myriad of ideas have been proposed through the years to give DC residents voting rights. They have included carving out “non-federal” areas in the District to create a zone that would be outside the federal capital. Another plan had the District aligned with suburban Maryland as a way to pick up a voting member of Congress. Both novel ideas, but both scenarios are compromises that do not embrace the localism that is fundamental to American democracy. Residents of Washington, D.C. want nothing more than to be represented in Congress by an individual of their choosing who has full voting rights and freely exercises those rights on behalf citizens who live and pay taxes in the District. American citizens should not have to borrow a cup of democracy from neighbors.
Now, after years of struggling, the day appears near when DC voting rights activist will see their dream come true. The District of Columbia Voting Rights Act (H.R. 157) is now being debated on Capitol Hill that would give the District of Columbia voting representation in the House of Representatives. Still, do not pop the champagne corks just yet. At the eleventh hour, Republicans are attempting to inject a repeal of the District’s gun ban into the House version of the bill. A similar move took place in the Senate and now threatens to derail the legislation. The repeal of the District’s regulation of firearms has been a hot topic ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the local law.
The bill is not perfect but it would give District residents a member of the House of Representatives who has full voting privileges. Currently, Eleanor Holmes Norton is officially a “Delegate” and is prohibited from voting on legislation. The bill would elevate her status, or whoever holds the seat when it is enacted into law, and also give Utah another member of the House. The compromise was worked out to satisfy Republicans who feel that Democrats will be the beneficiary of an extra vote in the House of Representatives.
However, as a result of this new wrinkle, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that the vote would not be brought up until next week. Next week could not come soon enough. All Americans who are truly committed to the fulfillment of the principles found in our Constitution should be offended by this delay. The fact that DC residents had to wait this long is an injustice. I hope no further harm is done to the bill’s chances now that Republicans have opted to resort to procedural trickery to reach down into the District to set policy. It is a violation of the very tenets of conservatism that some gun advocates espouse. Rather than play gun politics, Republicans should join Democrats in extending full democracy to the nation’s capital.