by Sarah Hurd
Like most Americans, I did not know that the District of Columbia, our nation’s capitol, does not have full voting rights. To make matters worse, the United States is the ONLY democratic country in the world that has such an arrangement (which is in direct violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Congress in 1992). This is one of the many reasons why the League of Women Voters has designated Washington D.C. Voting Rights as one of its priority issues this year, and is diligently working to educate and advocate on its behalf.
So what does this really mean? I can hear you ask. Plainly put, it means D.C. gets no votes in the Senate or the House. It also means that Congress has exclusive authority over D.C.’s local budget, and can annul laws it passes. Additionally, Washington D.C. does not have control over its local judiciary and prison systems; the President oversees them and appoints the judges.
At its core, the residents of our nation’s capitol live in a state of “taxation without representation.” They pay one of the highest per capita federal income taxes in the country, fight in America’s wars, serve on juries, and yet still do not have full voting representation.
Furthermore, they pay their own version of state taxes, operate just like a “normal” state in over 500 ways (for instance, they have their own police force, school system, legal code, utility regulations, etc.), but still, D.C. residents are not allowed to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent. All this despite the fact that 63% of its Gross State Product (GSP is a major indicator of overall economic vitality) is from private industry, and that its GSP is ranked higher than 15 other states.
Some of the most profound and compelling evidence in favor of granting D.C. full voting rights is found when looking at the rate at which D.C. Veterans have fought and died for this country in comparison with other states of similar size. For example, when compared to Wyoming, which is similar in population size and has full voting representation, over 2 ½ times more D.C. veterans served in World War I & II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Desert Storm combined than those from Wyoming (D.C. Veterans=192,406; Wyoming Veterans=75,372). Similarly, the total amount of D.C. veterans who died in battle in the previously mentioned wars is 1,683, as compared to 1,061 for Wyoming.
It seems unbelievable that these veterans from our nation’s capitol, who have so bravely served their country, risking and giving their lives to help establish democracies in such places as Iraq, are not allowed the same democratic freedoms at home as are their brothers and sisters in other states.
In November 2006, the newly elected House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, suggested a rule that would give D.C.’s Non-voting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton voting power on the House floor. Just over two months later, on January 5th, 2007, House Speaker Pelosi changed her position and did not agree to give Delegate Norton permission to vote.
The many political and socio-economic reasons why our nation’s capitol is the way it is today is a complex history and sociology lesson spanning over 200 years (one I will gladly spare you here). The technical or legal reason why D.C. has remained without full demographic representation is because it requires a constitutional amendment or act of congress to correct it, which is accomplished easy enough.
However, according to political experts, the main reason D.C. has been allowed to remain this way for so long is because of its demographics. Washington D.C. is 53% Female, 57% African American, 32% White, 9% Latino, which means it would most likely vote Democratic and hence have Democratic representatives, something which has not been looked upon as favorable there for quite some time.
For more information:
League of Women Voters
(see D.C. Voting Rights on homepage)