What's Oregon Got to Do With It? The Fight for DC Voting Rights

By Jaline Quinto, of Washington, DC. Jaline works in communications for DC Vote, an organization dedicated to securing full congressional representation for the nearly 600,000 residents of Washington, DC.

It’s been a centuries-long struggle to end taxation without representation, and it’s a fight that DC residents are just a few votes shy of winning. DC Vote, an organization dedicated to securing full congressional representation for Washington, DC, has launched an aggressive campaign to educate constituents in states where Senate members are filibustering the DC Voting Rights Act (S. 1257).

The bill is merely an incremental step towards full representation for residents of our nation’s capital – allowing for one voting member in the House of Representatives. Yet on September 18, a minority of Senators, including Gordon Smith (R-OR) chose to block an up or down vote on the bill – the first filibuster of voting rights legislation since the days of segregation.

Senator Smith voted the Republican Party line, telling the Oregonian in a written statement that, "the District of Columbia should find its congressional franchise through the state of Maryland, by statute, or through the Constitutional amendment process," The former idea is clearly unconstitutional and the latter is simply unnecessary. Even conservative constitutional scholars agree that Congress has the authority to grant voting rights to DC citizens without a Constitutional amendment.

So then…why are nearly 600,000 residents denied the same representation their fellow Americans in the states enjoy? We at DC Vote think the answer is fairly simple: because people in the states who have a vote and a voice don’t know about the issue of DC’s lack of democracy. That means Congress gets to keep its dirty little secret about denying a vote to more than half a million, mostly African American, residents of our nation’s capital.

There is an upside to Americans’ lack of knowledge on the subject, though. DC Vote’s polling shows that once state residents learn about this injustice, they overwhelmingly support voting rights for the people living in the District. Our recent trip to Montana to engage and mobilize voters shows that Americans believe in democracy for all citizens and feel passionately that DC residents deserve a seat at the table.

In many ways, the voices of constituents in the states (where Congress members’ votes actually count) can help DC achieve full voting representation. Indeed, it may be the only way. DC Vote will be in Oregon from March 10-13, and we hope to meet with as many constituents as possible. Join us on Thursday, March 13, in Portland for a Bus Project & DC Vote co-sponsored Happy Hour event to learn how Oregonians can help change the lives of more than half a million Americans who demand a vote. Information and event details are available at www.dcvote.org.

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    Thank you for this, Jaline.

    I lived in the District for eight years (1990-1997). Before that I had lived in Maryland, Connecticut, and New York: i.e states, where I enjoyed full representation in Congress. It was a shock to me (even though I "knew" intellectually about my lack of representation) when the Clarence Thomas hearings opened and it hit me HARD that I had no Senators to call with my opinion.

    How this persists ...is a profound mystery to me.

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    DC citizen deserve to vote for the House, Senate and President. One path is to become a state. Politically states are usually added in pairs, one Republican and one Democratic. Tom Barnett has written and blogged on this issue several times. See his column "The 51st state: Huge upside-down question mark" here on adding DC and Cuba (post Castros) as a pair: "the pairing most likely to unfold is Blue State D.C. joining the Union alongside Red State Cuba, and I've got my first two new stars on the flag." He also opened his blog for comments on what might be the 51st state here and received interesting suggestions.

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    Let's start with Puerto Rico. At least they're all Americans today. And they're also disenfranchised. They don't even get to vote for president in the general election.

    That's right. If you move to Puerto Rico, you'll lose your presidential vote. If you move from Puerto Rico to one of the 50 states, you magically gain a presidential vote.

    Puerto Rico has 3.94 million residents, which would make 'em the 27th largest state in the country - just one spot above Oregon, which has 3.74 million residents. (As of July 2007, US Census estimate.)

    Last I heard (several years ago), Puerto Rico's five members of congress would likely split 3-2 for the Republicans.

    DC would get one member of congress, and it would likely be a Democrat. Sounds like a perfect deal to me.

  • JHL (unverified)

    I don't think it's a particularly fantastic idea to hold the nation's business within the confines of a particular state.

    Congressmen and Senators need to be free to vote for or against bills as they see fit... even bills that may affect the District of Columbia. If the District of Columbia was granted the sovereign authority of a state, that means that it would have jurisdiction over, for example, Oregon's Congressional delegation while they were in DC: "Oh, you must be the Congressman who voted against the DC pork projects... well, here's a $1000 ticket for jaywalking."

    Not to say that such obvious corruption would raise its head, but that the "State of DC" would have disproportionate sway over Congress... more so than any other state. It's why the founding fathers established a federal district in the first place.

    It's also why we have the Oregon State Police... rather than the Salem Police... policing the Capitol Building.

    A voting House member is an interesting concept that merits discussion. Statehood is a bad idea.

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    Elanor Holmes Norton is IHMO one of the leading intellectuals in this country now, and when she decided to focus in on this fight I mourned the loss of her voice in the braodcast media. That said, she's been an extremely able advocate against holding millions of people hostage to an outdated idea.

    I still have mt Free DC T-shirt from '04, but it's getting a little ragged......

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    "Oh, you must be the Congressman who voted against the DC pork projects... well, here's a $1000 ticket for jaywalking."

    Um, why wouldn't that happen today, if it were a problem?

    DC does get pork projects. Congressmen do jaywalk.

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    Kari, Give Cuba time. Keep an open mind! I do not think the Republicans are confident that Puerto Rico would be a red state. Barnett speculates that Miami's Cubans would provide more of a push for Cuba to become a red state (Florida and its presidential influence)than Puerto Rica has. So the search is for a red state to match with the blue DC. In another of his articles in Esquire titled "The Next Five States" here , Barnett speculates on on dividing Texas (red) to pair with one of the current Mexican states, or adding Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, or the Canadian providences of Alberta (red) and British Columbia (blue) as states. So dividing Texas or adding Alberta could provide the pairing for DC statehood.

  • Jonathan (unverified)

    Just a reminder to everyone, Puerto Rico is a Territory which is different then D.C. Puerto Rico voted against statehood a few years ago, doesn't pay federal taxes and its citizens are not subject to the draft. I would love if Puerto Rico chose to become a state, but that issue is separate from D.C.'s right to vote.

    The refusal to give D.C. the same representation as people in Wyoming is a travesty. D.C. pays taxes and is subject to the draft yet is denied the right to. America supposedly vote a Revolution over this same issue, Taxation without Representation. Please support this bill and write Gordon Smith to let him know we are paying attention and care about this issue.

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    I actually wrote Senator Smith on this issue last year. It was the only time I ever got a response from his office.

    I'd written that I support giving DC full representation in Congress. I understand the reasons why our founding fathers did not want our capitol to be in a state. Although it's odd since other countries don't do it this way. But even if DC doesn't become a state, they still deserve all the rights that the rest of America has.

    Here is Smith's response...

    April 20, 2007 Dear Mrs. Simonis: Thank you for contacting me to regarding statehood for the District of Columbia. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts regarding this matter. Proposals to make the District of Columbia the 51st state raise questions that go right to the heart of the Constitution. Following the American Revolutionary War, the newly formed government needed to establish a home for the federal capitol. Rivalry among the states led the Constitutional Framers to grant Congress the constitutional right, of creating a federal district in which to house the federal government. The states of Virginia and Maryland gave land to the federal government to create the new federal district governed by Congress. Because the district was specifically created to serve as the seat of the federal government, the size of the district was limited to ten square miles. Statehood for Washington D.C. is a perennial issue. Rest assured, I will bear your important concerns in mind should this issue come before the Senate for debate and consideration. Thank you again for contacting my office regarding statehood for the District of Columbia. I appreciate the time you took to contact me, and hope you will continue to share your views in the future.

    (I tried very hard to ensure to type this in exactly as written, and as such grammatical errors are theirs.)


    Of course at the time I'd written because H.R. 1905 had come up in the House, which would have worked towards giving the 600,000 residents of DC voting representation in Congress. It passed the House on April 19, the day before Smith's office wrote this letter. The DC Voting Rights Act (S. 1257) then passed in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs with broad bipartisan support 9-1 on June 13 (it was introduced May 1).

    However, on September 18, 2007, Republicans blocked the bill from being debated with a vote of 57 yeas - 42 neas. In order to overcome a filibuster, 60 votes are required (57-42; Wyden voted yea, Smith voted nea).

    I think it's funny that he says he'll "bear [my] important concerns in mind should this issue come before the Senate for debate and consideration", but then he votes to keep the bill from ever being debated.

    Just another reason why we need a new representative in the U.S. Senate.

  • JHL (unverified)

    Um, why wouldn't that happen today, if it were a problem?

    It could happen today, but the DC cops are beholden to Congress; Congress meets within its own jurisdiction.

    If DC should become a state, then Congress would be meeting within the jurisdiction of a separate and somewhat sovereign entity, and that entity would also have a delegation within Congress. There's an inherent conflict of interest there.

    How would it be if the Supreme Court building was in Utah... and just as the Justices were about to deliberate on a key pro-choice issue, the Utah Human Services Department decided that they were going to immediately quarantine and evacuate the building... until further notice? It's not a question that should have to be considered in a free republic.

    There are checks and balances at work within the federal government, and there are checks and balances at work between the federal government and the states. DC statehood throws those balances askew.

  • NoElleNo- no state no tax (unverified)

    If "Taxation Without Representation" continues the only manner in which we will get REAL action and results is: STOP FILING AND PAYING TAXES!!! People are so afraid of this idea half reading this will get up and file today!
    Believe it or not....the IRS can't penalize a WHOLE CITY! Do you realize how large the population of DC is? We would have the Federal Government at it's knees! People are afraid of the so-called powers that be...these are the people YOU voted into office and I'll be DAMNED if I'm voting someone I'm AFRAID OF into and office and they dare not give my city, Capitol of the United States what it needs! RIDICULOUS and sad that this so-called district hasn't taken to the streets in protest! We need to start standing up for our city and we can change it. If nothing CHANGES, NOTHING changes. Let's make that change folks! We may not be able to VOTE but we can sure BOYCOTT! It won't matter because we don't have a delegate-I DARE YOU!

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