A Real Plan for DC Voting Rights and Home Rule

Other Plans

Other proposals to solve DC’s voting rights and home rule problem are deeply flawed. These other solutions are either politically or constitutionally flawed, or perpetuate DC residents as second class citizens lacking full and equal representation in the House and Senate. 

Constitutional Amendment

Any approach that provides two Senators for the city of Washington will be filibustered by Republicans and many big-state Democrats. Maryland and Virginia legislators are also unlikely to support the addition of two Senators from the District of Columbia who would in all likelihood pursue a commuter tax and residency requirements for DC government employees.

Since Constitutional amendments must be approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress and ratified by 3/4 of the states, these obstacles create an overwhelming burden that explains the failure of the effort in 1985 to gain even half of the needed states.

House Voting Only

Prior legislation (HR 157) introduced by DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and S.160, introduced by Senators Orin Hatch (R-UT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has two major flaws. First, it seeks to establish a congressional seat for the District of Columbia. The Constitution is very clear that congressional districts come from states and are to be apportioned every ten years to equalize their population with other districts. Republicans realize that if the legal argument is made that Congress can treat the District as if it were a state for the purpose of House representation, a future Congress could similarly provide Senate representation. They also realize that if Congress believes it can create a non-apportioned House seat from a federal enclave, Congress could similarly create seats from other federal enclaves or non-state areas like the territories.

The second flaw is that HR 157 provides no Senate representation for District residents. Senate Representation is far more important for DC residents than House Representation. Even former Representative Tom Davis (R, VA) has stated clearly that he opposes Senators coming from the District of Columbia. (It is worth noting that he is not opposed to DC residents being represented in the Senate by the Maryland Senators. In fact, most Republicans who favor equal voting rights for DC residents favor DC residents voting as part of Maryland in one way or another.)

DC Statehood

Washington DC could also gain voting rights and home rule by statehood. A previous DC statehood bill by DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was soundly defeated in 1993 by a vote of 153 to 277. While a similar bill was recently passed in the House, it received not a single Republican vote and will likely fail in the Senate or be subject to a filibuster. This approach is unlikely to succeed due to two political realities:

  1. Republicans and legislators from large states are unlikely to favor awarding statehood to what is essentially a small, heavily Democratic city, especially if there are other feasible solutions that provide DC full representation in Congress.
  2. Maryland and Virginia would fight Statehood for DC because of the effect a commuter tax or residency requirement would have upon their state budgets, two provisions DC would favor if it were a state.

Additional Home Rule Authority

DC could gain incremental home rule powers through further delegation of powers by Congress, but these powers would never be final and would always be susceptible to federal meddling.

Cityhood is the Best Solution

DC, Maryland, and Congress all benefit from Maryland-based solutions. DC residents gain voting rights equal to those of all other Americans, gaining not only full voting rights in both the House and Senate, but also full participation as part of a state government. Maryland expands to its original size and gains 600,000 new residents that increase Maryland’s per capita income, percentage with college degrees, and percentage of registered Democrats. Maryland also gains a new Congressional District and an extra electoral vote. And finally, Congress rids itself of a role it no longer needs to play.

Unlike when the Constitution was created, there is now a powerful federal government that can protect its own interests over those of the States. Under the Constitution, the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over all federally owned properties. If Washington were reunited with Maryland, Congress would still control the Mall area and all federal building, just as it controls the Pentagon located in Virginia.

Home Rule

In addition to supporting voting rights in Congress for DC residents equal to that of all other Americans, the Committee for the Capital City also recognizes that DC residents need to have home rule so that the laws that they must live under are the responsibility of locally elected officials. The best way to accomplish this goal is to reestablish the city of Washington as a unique, home-rule city in the State of Maryland. This approach maintains the unique character of Washington as the city that is home to the national government. Washington would continue with its present boundaries and elected officials.

With the renewed status of being a part of the State of Maryland instead of a federal enclave under the exclusive legislative control of Congress, the citizens of Washington would gain by our calculation four new representatives in the Maryland State Senate and twelve new members in the Maryland House of Delegates. Washington voters would also gain the representation of the Maryland Governor and other statewide officials. As a part of Maryland, DC residents could expect lower state income tax rates and a more efficient local government that would have the potential to deliver better local services though a combination of economies of scale and additional government resources to draw upon.

The State of Maryland would similarly benefit under our plan by gaining an additional congressional district and electoral vote as well as the pride and prestige of becoming the home state in the eyes of the world to the capital city of the United States of America. With the city of Washington becoming the twenty-fifth local jurisdiction in Maryland, Maryland gains 600,000 new residents who would by their addition make Maryland richer, more highly educated, and more Democratic.