Lack of Representation

The US Constitution authorizes a separate federal district, and residents of the federal district were originally allowed to vote in national elections. In 1801, however, the Organic Act establishing the District eliminated the right of District of Columbia residents to vote for president, vice-president, or members of Congress. This situation existed until 1963 when the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution was ratified giving citizens of DC the right to vote for president and vice-president.

In spite of efforts since then, the people of Washington, DC, still do not have voting representatives in the House of Representatives or Senate. This lack of federal voting representation limits the influence citizens in DC have on congressional legislation involving health, governance, budgeting, taxes, gun control and other matters directly affecting DC lives and livelihoods. And the number of DC residents is not trivial; it is comparable to the population of several states. According to the 2000 census, the population of Washington, DC (572,000) is close to that of Wyoming (494,000), Vermont (609,000), Alaska (627,000), and North Dakota (642,000).

Though they lack representation in decisions of our national government, DC citizens help to protect our federal government and are obligated to support it. DC citizens fight for America in times of war and are asked to serve on juries to uphold federal laws. In addition, DC Citizens are required to pay federal taxes, which means they suffer from taxation without representation. It was the claim of “taxation without representation” that the founders of our country used as they declared independence from England over 200 years ago. In many ways, DC citizens have the defacto status of subjects.

Further, DC voting rights limits contradict international treaties. The US has signed the International Covenant on Civil Rights, the Organization of American States’ American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, all of which call for full voting rights for adult citizens. The US government is thereby advocating voting rights in other countries that it does not provide to all of its own citizens.

Finally, research suggests that the plight of DC citizens is not well known today. A January, 2005 survey by KRC Research found that 78% of Americans are unaware that DC residents lack full voting rights.

Current Approaches to Gaining Voting Rights

  • Legal Suits

    The Court of Appeals rejected the “taxation without representation” argument in Green v. DC in 1966. This argument also failed in later cases involving federal and DC taxes.

    In Adams v. Clinton in 2002 the DC Court of Appeals said that voting rights were a matter for legislative, not judicial relief. The US Supreme Court refused to reconsider this ruling. This effectively closes the judicial approach to voting rights for the near future.

  • Constitutional Amendment

    Congress passed the DC Voting Rights Amendment in 1985 but by the time it expired in 1985 it had been ratified by only 16 of the 38 states required. This history makes a second Constitutional attempt unlikely.

  • Legislation

    The Joe Lieberman/Eleanor Holmes Norton Bill: First introduced in 2001, this bill gives DC two senators and allocates representatives proportional to the population as is done for states. Opponents note that the Constitution provides that senators be elected only by states. In addition, any bill creating two senators for DC is unlikely to be passed in [”voted out of” is jargon for “passed”] Congress in the near term because the Republican-controlled Congress knows that in this majority Democratic city, the two senators elected would be Democrats.

    The Tom Davis Bill: Introduced this year, this bill states that DC residents would be given representation in the US House, and adds another seat in the House for the state of Utah. This bill balances a likely Democratic seat in DC with a likely Republican seat in Utah. After the 2010 Census the number of Congress people would revert to 435 with DC retaining its Representative and Utah holding the number of seats to which it’s entitled by the Census. Opponents note that this bill would not give DC citizens full representation, as there would be no DC Senators.

    Retrocession: Introduced originally by Ralph Regula the DC Voting Rights Restoration act would return almost all of DC to Maryland, reducing the District to the Mall and surrounding federal structures. Most DC residents would then become Maryland residents, which would enable them to elect a representative to the US House and vote for Maryland’s two Senators. Questions have been raised as to whether Maryland would welcome DC’s traditionally Democratic voter block and whether DC residents would accept their new status as Marylanders.

    Statehood: Some residents continue to advocate for a bill that would make DC a state. This approach faces opposition in today’s political climate because the Republican-controlled Congress knows that in this majority Democratic city, the elected representative and senators would be Democrats.


DC for Democracy’s Program

DC for Democracy will work with the existing DC voting rights community (listed in part under Additional Resources below), especially by providing a much needed and significant source of “feet on the street.” To join these efforts, please contact us today.

Helping building national awareness of The District’s lack of voting rights

DCFD will develop and execute a periodic series of media events to build the nation’s awareness of DC’s lack of voting rights. Increasing their constituents’ knowledge of DC’s plight will eventually build interest among Members of Congress in supporting our rights. In addition, DCFD will work to build National awareness through established church, non-profit, veterans and commercial networks and through textbook publishers.

Building local interest in voting rights

There appears to be a low level of interest in DC voting rights among DC residents. DCFD will develop and undertake a program to heighten interest in voting rights among DC residents.

Making An Impact

DC for Democracy has already started making an impact. On July 1, 2005, we joined several partner organizations to sponsor a rally for full voting representation. The result? A resolution was passed by an international body calling on the United States to provide voting rights to ALL its citizens in the nation’s capital - plus, some big time media coverage. Check out the photos and video below:

  • International Body Backs Vote for DC, Washington Post, July 6, 2005
  • Watch a video montage of the Equal Voting Rights for DC Rally, created by Mike Flugennock. (NOTE: It may take a few seconds to load. Viewing this program requires Real Player. To download a free version of Real Player, click here.)
  • Watch news clips of the rally by NBC 4 and NewsChannel 8. (NOTE: It may take a few seconds to load. Viewing this program requires Real Player. To download a free version of Real Player, click here.)

Additional Resources