A History of Voting Rights in the District of Columbia
In 1790, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton agreed upon the Compromise of 1790, in which it was agreed that the capital city of the United States would be moved from Philadelphia to a new location in the South, what would eventually become known as the District of Columbia. George Washington chose the location of the new city, along the banks of the scenic Potomac River, and one year after its establishment, the City of Washington was named in his honor. At the time, the territory was comprised of three separate municipalities: the City of Washington, the City of Alexandria, and the City of Georgetown. The federal district was poetically named the District of Columbia, and the Congress of the United States held its first session on Capitol Hill in November of 1800.
Between 1790 and 1800, residents of this federal territory were able to elect representatives to Congress as part of the Virginia or Maryland delegations. In 1801, however, Congress passed The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 splitting the city into Washington, in the north, and Alexandria, in the south. Following passage of this legislation, citizens of the District were no longer considered residents of either Maryland or Virginia and were subsequently no longer able to vote for Congressional representation. From that moment onward, only a few decades after American colonists coined the phrase “taxation without representation”, Washington residents were refused the most basic right of a voice in their government, an atrocity that still continues today.
In 1871, the District of Columbia and the City of Washington were merged, creating Washington, DC as we know it today. Other states continued to gain admittance to the Union, and representation in Congress, while DC residents continued to go without. Only in 1961, with the passage of the Twenty-Third Amendment, were the citizens of DC actually given the opportunity to vote for President. Even this small victory was not without […], and although the District was more populous than thirteen of the fifty states in 1960, it was not, and cannot, be granted more electoral votes than the least populous state regardless of its own population.
In 1978, there appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Both Houses of Congress passed the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment. This Amendment proposed to treat the District as though it were a state, particularly in regard to representation in Congress and the Electoral College. However, the Amendment was ratified by only sixteen states, more than twenty short of the two-thirds needed, and the oppression of District residents continued.
Recently, small steps have been taken towards granting the District the equal voting representation it deserves. This year Congress lifted the ban on spending money lobbying for fair representation and the DC Council approved $500,000 towards a DC voting rights campaign. Senator Strauss and other Democrats in the Senate brought the DC Voting Rights Bill to within three votes of the sixty needed to begin debate, the farthest the bill has ever gotten. Although progress has been made, there is much more that needs to be done in the future in order to halt the systematic, politically biased exploitation of the District by a selfish right wing coalition who does not want the voices of DC residents to be empowered on a national level.
U.S. Senator Paul Strauss and D.C. Voting Rights
Senator Strauss’ highest priority is securing fair and equal voting representation for the residents of the District of Columbia. He believes that statehood is the best solution for the travesty that is DC’s lack of voting representation in Congress. This would grant the District a full congressional delegation thus ensuring that DC residents have a voice in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives. District residents deserve the right to participate in decisions on national issues, like healthcare and military action overseas. Anything less is a grave injustice and must end immediately.
DC statehood can be achieved through a constitutional amendment or through an act of Congress. Senator Strauss was instrumental in working with Senate Democrats on the “No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2003″ which would have granted DC full voting representation, and he plans on keeping legislation like this in the forefront of Congress’ agenda. There are lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are willing to help the District in this fight; we, the residents of DC, need to use the relationships that Senator Strauss have forged with them to our best advantage. His experience in the Senate and in the House of Representatives means that he know the best possible way to move forward in our fight for equal and fair voting representation in Congress.
The disenfranchisement of the citizens of the District is a great wrong. How can it be that the capitol city of the largest democracy in the world lacks representation for its own citizens? While the “No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2003″ was a step in the right direction, it is not the giant leap that we need. We need statehood, not only full voting representation in Congress, but full control over our own government as well.