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A Real Plan for DC Voting Rights and Home Rule

  • We believe that residents of the District of Columbia should have voting rights in the US Senate and House of Representatives equal to those of all other Americans.
  • We support Maryland-based solutions that provide full voting rights in the House and Senate and real home-rule for the residents of the District of Columbia.
  • Our two-part plan calls for Congress to restore the right of DC residents to vote as part of the Maryland electorate for congressional representation, and to support Washington becoming a new home-rule city in Maryland.

Contact Us

Committee for the Capital City
PO Box 77443
Washington, DC 20013-8443
Editorial, "Voting rights", the Northwest Current, 8/20/03 PDF Print E-mail
The Current Newspapers
Editorial, August 20, 2003

Voting rights

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has performed a true public service by setting up a task force of outstanding lawyers to analyze Rep. Tom Davis' proposal to grant District residents voting rights in the House of Representatives as if they were residents of Maryland.

Rep. Davis' proposal would temporarily increase the number of representatives by two -- with one going to the District, which would probably go to a Democrat, and the other going to Utah, which would probably elect a Republican. The number of House members would revert to 435 after the 2010 census and resulting reapportionment.

Under the Davis proposal, D.C. residents would be treated as though they were Maryland residents for the purposes of voting for a House member. The District would be included along with Maryland for apportionment and redistricting purposes.

Del. Norton says that she has suggested the creation instead of a D.C.-only congressional district separate from the Maryland delegation. We have strong doubts that such a plan would meet constitutional muster, given the definition of the House of Representatives as being selected by people of "the several States." But Del. Norton and task force member Walter Smith contend that it presents fewer questions than the Maryland option. It is worth further examination.

So, too, is the Maryland-based plan. We believe most of the questions raised by the task force can be addressed relatively easily, with the prospect of a voting representative in the House a substantial benefit for the District.

Under the proposal, the task force points out, some Maryland residents would be included in the new predominantly D.C. congressional district. Since the U.S. Constitution reserves redistricting to the states, Congress presumably could not prevent Maryland from splitting D.C. into two or more congressional districts.

Although many District residents may reflexively object to such a scenario, we believe having two members of Congress who would have to appeal to a large number of District voters could become an asset. The District would quite likely have more strength than if only one representative were dependent on our voters. This would be particularly helpful in fighting the often-successful attempts of some members of Congress to add riders to the District budget.

Another question raised by the task force deals with a possible constitutional obligation to allow D.C. residents to vote for Maryland senators. To have some residents in a congressional district voting for senators while others cannot, the task force reasoned, might violate the Constitution's equal protection clause.

If this were to be the case, we think it would be wonderful. Two Senators would be fighting for us against riders, rather than none as now. We do not see any reasonable chance of the District getting its own two senators, as the Republicans would object to the addition of two Democrats to the Senate without an opportunity to add two Republicans as well.

The task force questioned whether constitutional language requiring that representatives be inhabitants of the state in which they are chosen might preclude D.C. residents from representing the new D.C.-Maryland district. To us, this fear is particularly important and demands a proper solution. We do not believe District residents should be precluded from serving in the House, or having one of their own represent them.

The task force fears that once D.C. is subject to Annapolis for redistricting, the District's home rule powers could be lost. Even if this were true, Maryland has strong limits on the legislature's power over Baltimore City. Legislators cannot second-guess local legislation the way Congress does the District's laws now. Of course, the District would face double jeopardy if it ended up under the jurisdiction of both the Maryland Statehouse and Congress. We hope that Rep. Davis will find a way to avoid any such problems.

In sum, we believe that Rep. Davis' proposal -- whether tied to Maryland or not -- would give the District a great deal more clout in Congress than it has now. For the first time, our representative would have a real vote. As a result, other representatives would have a far more difficult time attaching riders to our budget, for they and potential supporters would risk alienating one or more representatives.