Updated: Jan 15, 2021
By Clara Pressey
Image via The Wall Street Journal.
In June 2019, Washington D.C., the capital of the United States of America, had an estimated population of over 700,000 people (United States Census Bureau), meaning that its population is larger than the states of Wyoming (578,759) and Vermont (623,989).
However, D.C. voting rights have a tumultuous history. When the location was chosen for the nation’s capital in 1800, its citizens were stripped of their right to vote in federal elections for president shortly thereafter. It wasn’t until the passing of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 that they regained that right (History). Currently, they have three electoral votes, but no representation in the Senate, and only one representative in the House (whose powers are greatly limited).
This information has led people to ask a question — the same question that has been asked about a variety of U.S. territories and districts, most notably Puerto Rico. :“Should D.C. receive statehood?”
According to a poll taken by Gallup in June of 2019, 29% of people who were polled favored making D.C. into a state, while 64% opposed the idea and 8% had no opinion either way. In terms of partisan beliefs, the left had a clear tendency to favor it more than the right.
Democrats came in at 39% in favor as opposed to Republicans at 15% (Independents were at 30%). Those who described themselves as Liberal came in at 40%, Conservatives at 14%, and Moderates at 35%. Geographically, those living in the East favored statehood at a higher percentage than those living in the South, Midwest, or West.
According to Erin Doherty, writing for FiveThirtyEight, part of the opposition for D.C. statehood could be directly linked to a similar kind of partisanship. D.C. is a very liberal city, so, if it were to gain representation in Congress, Congress would change — and quite possibly in a way that would not favor Conservatives. . She also speculates that distaste could be coming from a general distrust of the federal government of the United States. This idea ties into a Gallup poll from August 2020 that put a total of 59% of American citizens as having “not very much” or “none at all” faith in the government to handle domestic problems. A relatively similar majority has been maintained on that issue for the past few decades.
Former Obama-administration Security Advisor Susan Rice describes in an op-ed for The New York Times, an argument for those against statehood, saying that “Opponents of Washington statehood make specious legal arguments, claiming that the Constitution mandates complete federal authority over the district and thus precludes statehood.”
She then goes on to say why, exactly, she describes that argument as “specious” — “But the Constitution merely states that the federal enclave cannot exceed ‘10 miles square’; it does not prohibit carving out a limited area for government buildings that remains under federal control, while making the rest of the district into a state.”
In the same op-ed, entitled “Washington, D.C., Deserves Statehood,” Rice brings in another argument — that preventing D.C. from becoming a state is disenfranchisement of a city, particularly one whose citizens, historically, are predominantly Black. According to the US Census Bureau once again, 46% of D.C.’s population in June 2019 was Black, and, in the past, the percentage has been over 50. This indicates that some anti-statehood sentiments are rooted in voter-suppression based on race.
Oftentimes, proponents for statehood who live in D.C. will be seen with “Taxation Without Representation” bumper stickers or license plates. That argument is pretty self-explanatory. The people of Washington D.C. pay federal taxes, but don’t have representatives in Congress who have a say in where they go.
Now that Democrats are set to control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, steps may be taken towards granting D.C. greater representation in Congress, if not status as a state. Until then, citizens of the district will continue to be represented by their lone delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Written by writer Clara Pressey