Greater Greater Washington

Give DC representation in tandem with other territories

The DC voting rights bill is dead, and the unique situation that made a compromise possible is evaporating. But this seemingly devastating setback may be an opportunity to pursue a real solution for a problem the Founding Fathers never foresaw: that some citizens might live in territories so small that they will never be deemed eligible for statehood. To fix this, we need a Constitutional amendment to address all territories, not just DC.

Let's not mourn the loss of this bill too deeply. While getting representation in the House would given residents some representation in the government, it was at best a fragment of a solution that would still leave DC residents as lesser citizens. It isn't even clear the law would have withstood the constitutional challenge that was sure to follow.

Even with House representation, DC residents would still have lacked representation in the Senate and the right to vote for or against amendments to the Constitution or vote in any contingent elections.

Neither of the other popular solutions, statehood or retrocession to Maryland, seems remotely likely. DC is probably just too small (and too heavily Democratic) to be a state in the opinion of many Americans. Maryland is unwilling to take on DC and DC residents are not eager to suddenly become residents of Maryland. Additionally, there are some who believe that both statehood and retrocession violate the District Clause of the Constitution. Finally, even if one of those solutions could make it through the vast political challenges and the legal challenges, it would still be incomplete. That's because the problem is larger than DC.

The problem is not that DC doesn't have a House member, it's that five million American citizens don't have the voice in their government that residency in a state provides. While the District is unique when compared with other territories in which disenfranchised Americans live, it is not unique in the nature of its situation.

DC Voting Rights activists should work with the residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) (and even American Samoa whose residents are not citizens but rather Nationals. Despite that, they do have a stake in this if they ever aspire to full citizenship) to create a lasting, flexible solution.

We need a Territorial Representation Amendment. The amendment as I see it would read like this:

Section 1: Congress may designate any Territory, Commonwealth or District of the United States, or a combination thereof, as a Represented Territory; or add such to an existing Represented Territory, so long as there is no more than one Represented Territory that is less populous than the least populous State at the time of its designation.

Section 2: For purposes of representation in the House of Representatives, each Represented Territory shall be treated as though it were a State.

Section 3: If there is at least one Represented Territory as designated under section 1, then for purposes of representation in the Senate, and election of the President and Vice President, the combination of all Represented Territories shall be treated as though it were a State.

Section 4: For purposes of article V of this Constitution when the mode of ratification is by state legislatures, the combination of all Represented Territories shall count as one State and use a convention where each Represented Territory is represented proportionally.

Section 5: The twenty-third article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

This amendment would enable Congress to grant all U.S. Citizens full representation without having to make tiny Guam into it's own state. And the result would have the combined benefits of upholding America's value for representative democracy, without any question of constitutionality, while being more politically palatable than the other courses of action.

If it were ratified, the U.S. would likely end up with three Represented Territories. One for DC, one for Puerto Rico and one for all of the rest. DC would get one house member, Puerto Rico would get six, and the other territories would share one. All of these areas would vote for the same two Senators, both of whom would likely come from the larger Puerto Rico. The electoral college votes could be divided up using the Congressional District or proportional vote method.

The amendment would be more politically viable because it comes with greater political parity and would include many new allies. In Puerto Rico, both parties are competitive. Their Governor is Republican, but their delegate is Democratic. The other territories are more mixedthe Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands is heavily Republican, for exampleso this would not create two de facto Senate seats for the Democratic Party, as adding DC by itself would.

Additionally, it would result in a net loss for the District in the Electoral College, where they're overrepresented anyway, making the law more appealing to strategy-minded Republicans. Parity has been a key part of adding new states and is the reason they were often admitted as pairs. Furthermore, Puerto Ricans and other islanders become natural allies to the cause and can supplement the national organization needed to ratify an amendment in 38 legislatures in seven years.

While the idea of having two Senators who are likely from Puerto Rico might not seem appealing to DC residents, it is structurally no different than having two Senators, both of whom are from Maryland, as would happen in retrocession. And DC would still make up one eighth of the combined Representative Territories (CRT) which would make it foolish for office seekers to ignore. Furthermore, if Puerto Rico ever obtains statehood or independence, DC would find itself the largest piece of the CRT.

The CRT would be able to ratify amendments by electing representatives to a Territorial Convention and would be able to vote as one state in the rare event that there is another Contingent Election.

Such an amendment would not only make residents of the Nation's Capital full citizens, but it could, once and for all, correct the unseemly problem of having any citizens, in a country that prides itself on its democratic principals, who are not allowed representationand have no reasonable chance of getting itsolely because of which part of the country they live in.

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David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Committee for DC.  

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An interesting idea, but no. Besides the fact that U.S. citizens in the territories do not pay federal income taxes enjoy greater home rule, and territories all (theoretically) have the ability to become states or be granted independence, this idea fails for the basic reason that other D.C. voting rights initiatives fail; the rest of the country doesn't really care. At least, they don't care enough to pass an Amendment to the Constitution.

The best near-term solution to D.C. voting rights, in my opinion, is to accept Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's bill to allow D.C. residents to vote as Marylanders in Congressional elections. D.C. would not be retroceded to Maryland, the District would still have its own government, and Congress would still remain effectively control of the territory, but residents would gain representation in both houses. That is the solution that those in favor of D.C. voting rights should be pushing.

by Adam L on May 5, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

Well, not ALL of DC would be retrograded, just "Washington City." The original "Washington, DC" was just the part of the District inside of what once was Boundary Ave, which is now Florida Avenue. The rest of the District (after Arlington and Alexandria left) was Washington County until the early 20th Century. I.e., mail went to Georgetown, DC.

The retroceding would only be for legacy Washington County, where the vast majority of Washington's un-represented residents live. Legacy Washington City would remain as the Constitutionally-mandated Federal District, which is already basically owned by the Federal gummint and not the DC gov't (other than DDOT and DCPS).

I like the idea of retrocession of all of Washington outside of Florida Ave back to MD as Washington County, MD. The end.

by D on May 5, 2010 2:59 pm • linkreport

Ha! Retrograded -- that's not the same thing.

by D on May 5, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

"Five million"? I think you mean to say 500,000

by 13th & Harvard on May 5, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

DC is small! Why, it's almost as small as Wyoming.

by J.D. Hammond on May 5, 2010 3:10 pm • linkreport

Incidentally, D, you may like that idea, but it would remove from me and my family numerous rights that we currently enjoy.

by J.D. Hammond on May 5, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

When I registered my car, if I would knew I could get a license plate free of the taxation w/o representation tag, I would have. Most people that I meet that have jumped on the voting rights bandwagon are recent transplants. It's not like this is something new.

Getting a vote wouldn't change the ability of Senator Ensign to use DC as a legislative playground. That would require changing this part of Section 8:

"To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings"

Until someone mentions refining that clause, the vote is largely meaningless. Aside from the additional D vote, what would it accomplish? Would DC be subject to any less federal oversight, would city council start acting like a real government?

by why on May 5, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

@D. That's just not happening. First off, besides the fact such a proposal would leave a quarter of D.C. residents disenfranchised (your proposal doesn't really fix a problem as much as it makes a situation possibly less dire), Maryland doesn't want any part of the District back to govern (i.e. pay for), especially not the poorer areas. Nor do I think Congress would want to return any portion of the federal territory (what's the benefit to them?) In addition, such a proposal would require a massive upheaval in government, one that would be very difficult and costly to enforce. Everything from property records, drivers licenses, ownership of public property, etc. would have to be completely changed. That's a nightmare of epic proportions.

In addition, as a more subtle point, the distinction between the L'Enfant City, Georgetown, and the remainder of the territory is now largely historical. The District has been a completely unified entity for 140 years (in case anybody is wondering, that's why the D.C. seal says "1871"). The only people who really care about the distinction between the three areas are historic preservationists and agencies charged with the preservation of the old city, like the NCPC.

by Adam L on May 5, 2010 3:17 pm • linkreport

This is an interesting Idea. I do see a couple of problems right off the bat.

1) The political will for change alive in DC doesn't necessarily exist in the other territories. Puerto Rico, for instance, has turned down the opportunity for statehood several times. If there is no will for change it will be difficult for DC to benefit from a potential partnership.

2)Electing senators to represent such a wide geographic and demographic area could cause a lot of political problems and in the end cause more harm than good. It is hard enough for current Senators to keep the citizens of their states happy. These two new Senators would not be dealing with one cohesive state, but several diverse interest groups spread over a vast geographic area. Sure, all states have diverse and complicated populations. However, as we have seen recently with the Tea Party movement, States Rights/State Pride can be an important rallying cry, especially when you are trying to win an election and then effectively advocate for your constituents. The proposed political entity would lack this pride, and given differences in population and geography, I can't imagine it being engendered any time soon.

Not to get down on this idea too much. After so many disappointing moments for DC statehood, new thinking is welcome and necessary.

by Matt R. on May 5, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

Amending the Constitution would be about a 10 year process and even that would require overwhelming bipartisan support throughout the country. I'm not sure if DC Vote has the budget for that. I'd say legislating something sloppy and letting the courts figure it out is the only viable option.

by jm on May 5, 2010 3:21 pm • linkreport

I own a house, so I'm hoping the activist Roberts court will strike down the federal income tax for DC residents, at which point I will sell my modest two-story townhome for $8.5 million dollars.

It could happen!

by oboe on May 5, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

@why

You're definitely right. Even with representation, there's still a problem of home rule. I approach the issue pragmatically, i.e. I just accept that retrocession, statehood, and a constitutional amendment are just not going to happen.

There are things that Congress can do in the meantime that would not require a Constitutional amendment. For example, eliminating the Congressional review period and active approval of the city budget. Through the rules process, Congress could require that all D.C.-specific legislation be presented in a stand-alone bill, or require a 2/3 vote to pass legislation or overturn acts of the Council. There are many times in which Congress requires a higher threshold for passage of legislation simply due to requirements in their own rules (the most famous being the filibuster in the Senate).

Are such remedies perfect? Absolutely not. However, they would go a long to keep Congressional interference in local affairs at a minimum.

by Adam L on May 5, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport

@oboe
It's been pretty clearly decided that we will pay tax, and the different between DC and a territory has been nicely articulated by the court in here:
http://supreme.justia.com/us/18/317/case.html

"... to tax a part of the society which is either in a state of infancy advancing to manhood, looking forward to complete equality so soon as that state of manhood shall be attained, as is the case with the territories, or which has voluntarily relinquished the right of representation and has adopted the whole body of Congress for its legitimate government, as is the case with the District, ..."

by why on May 5, 2010 3:41 pm • linkreport

I'd rather support a constitutional amendment saying that the people of any District or territory not represented in Congress shall not be subject to federal income taxation.

by Fritz on May 5, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

I quite like the idea of a representative and two senators for all US citizens who do not have residency in one of the 50 states.

This is a compromise because DC will most likely never become of a state due to its size/demographics. This set-up would provide some representation to DC residents, but also all Americans living abroad. It would give those citizens a voice in Congress while forcing the senator/representative to balance the needs of a city with those of residents abroad much like any other Congressman needs to balance the needs of different groups within his state/district.

I don't believe the representation in the House for the DC/abroad 'state' should be based on population as it would not be the same type of entity as the other states. A single Representative would provide a voice, but not one that would give the Federal City too much power.

by Rob Page III on May 5, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

@why:

Surely they won't let something as trivial as 180 years of precedent get in the way, would they? Hasn't been much of hindrance lately.

In any case, what's the use of precedent when Scalia can peer directly into the minds of the Founders, unerringly discerning their Original Intent.

by oboe on May 5, 2010 5:13 pm • linkreport

@13th and Harvard. 5 million refers to the total population of DC, Puerto Rico, Guam, CNMI, USVI and American Samoa.

by David C on May 5, 2010 5:32 pm • linkreport

This is a very interesting idea to give representation to the unrepresented. It is problematic in that it gives territories (e.g., Puerto Rico) federal representation when they have explicitly rejected statehood. I prefer to have voters in large territories accept statehood and its responsibilities in exchange for representation, as has been done for over 200 years.

As for DC, I believe the problem is that it is too small. The issues it deals with are often regional. Therefore, I would create a new state out of DC (less the monumental core) with the inner suburbs (anything containing I-495 or within) adjoined. The Constitution would have to be amended to eliminate DC's electoral votes. The MD and VA legislatures would have to cede a few counties. I'm not optimistic about any of these.

by Chuck Coleman on May 5, 2010 6:09 pm • linkreport

Adam L is right- representation through the MD delegation would be the easiest to get. In fact the District did this for a few years after it was originally established. Hopefully we'd vote for Senators from MD too as they have a lot of power in citizen services.

Personally I'd like the no federal income tax like other territories. Second, I'd prefer statehood as that's a simple vote of Congress to do and most people think DC is a state anyway. Last pick is the Norton plan- it's obviously unconstitutional; the constitution says only states can have members of Congress. That wouldn't last past the first legal challenge.

by Tom Coumaris on May 5, 2010 7:18 pm • linkreport

Quite frankly, it keeps surprising me that in a country that boasts around the world that they have the best democracy in the world arguments like "well, they're way too Democratic to have representation" can exist.

Should the voting rights of Alabamans be taken away because they're too republican?

And then the same people try to lecture me on the lack of democracy in a monarchy. Well, in Amsterdam everybody gets to vote. Even the Queen (though she chooses not to, to stay impartial).

by Jasper on May 5, 2010 9:17 pm • linkreport

To the person who posted something on this: there's already a Washington County, MD -- so there goes your idea.

On the territories, for example, Guam: "But they don't pay federal taxes!" Well, guess why? Congress made a law that dictated that circumstance. It's not their fault that that's the way things are. What's the alternative? Continue to be colonial masters of the restless natives? That's hypocritical and downright 16th Century. Use them, abuse them, dictate to them, and tell them they have to bend over and like it (and have no say whatsoever)? What are we, Iran, North Korea, or Chavezuela???

by Robert in MD on May 5, 2010 9:22 pm • linkreport

Nice idea but we need three separate solutions for DC, Puerto Rico, and the territories.

1. For DC, we need statehood. We may have to split California to create a new Republican state. That would be our best bet. But anything short of statehood is not good enough. We do not need to amend the Constitution. Congress can set the size of the District however it wants, and the National Capital Service Area (White House, Capitol, Mall, etc. with no residents) can be governed by the District Clause.

2. For Puerto Rico, they need to shit or get off the pot. Statehood or independence. Make a choice, hermanos.

3. We should not own territories. Imperialism is dead. Offload them. they can have foreign aid for a decade or so and we'll make whatever military basing arrangements with them that we make with Germany and Japan, but they should be independent and not be part of this country.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 5, 2010 11:02 pm • linkreport

Revealed preference. If having representation is really that important to you, then move to a jurisdiction where they have it.

I think that given that D.C. isn't a state, the most fair thing would be to take away federal taxes.

by MPC on May 5, 2010 11:30 pm • linkreport

Your commitment to public choice theory is fascinating, MPC, but if I were to move to Virginia, my partner would be fired, I would no longer be married to him, and it would be illegal for us to have sex.

by J.D. Hammond on May 5, 2010 11:49 pm • linkreport

@MPC The argument that I should have to move to exercise the right of my citizenship is a load of bunk. My in-laws have lived in Switzerland for 20 years, and yet every two years they vote for their representative. I should be able to exercise my right no matter where in the world I live.

@Chuck Coleman I think your DC + surrounding counties idea is a great one, but Annapolis and Richmond would flip. The DC suburbs are an ATM for the rest of the state.

by jcm on May 6, 2010 12:01 am • linkreport

@JCM-

I'm not interested in normative statements like that. The fact that you reside in the District shows that your preference for Congressional representation is relatively low. You're voting with your feet.

by MPC on May 6, 2010 12:06 am • linkreport

@JCM, Plus, they're not Constitutional rights:

"... The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states..."

Article 1, Section 2

I'm not saying that's a fair thing, but you can't say that you're being deprived of your Constitutional rights when those rights don't exist...

by MPC on May 6, 2010 12:09 am • linkreport

Actually, MPC, you are saying it's a fair thing, considering your prior statement that I don't actually care whether I enjoy those rights nor not.

Just because I value such things as health insurance or continued employment or a relatively low degree of harassment as a sexual minority doesn't mean that I place a low value on enfranchisement; on the contrary, I place a high value on it, and would like to see it expanded.

by J.D. Hammond on May 6, 2010 12:25 am • linkreport

Just a few responses.

Adam L, if there were strong support for the Rohrbacher bill, I'd support it. It's better than the Norton bill and I supported that. Still, it would leave us out of the Constitutional amendment process and it would probably not survive a constitutional challenge (can Congress really waive the 23rd Amendment?). It is also a partial solution.

The home rule issue is a difficult one. I'm not sure we'd have a lot of luck overturning that, but I think getting representation would help. There is something we want, and getting more power can only help us get that. Two Senators, that can't ignore our votes would wield a lot of power.

Matt R, I don't see how the wide geographic and demographic area would cause problems (other than some areas feeling ignored and that is normal). The President represents a wide geographic and demographic area and that seems to work out OK. And the whole entity would be dominated by Puerto Rico. As to political will - PR may have turned down statehood, but only because it would preclude independence. This does not. I'm not sure if the territories would want this but if so I think it's worth pursuing.

Every option contains a series of low probability requirements. Take the Rorhbacher bill for example. What to you think are the odds that each of these things will happen: Get Maryland to accept it, get DC to accept it, get Congress to pass it, and get the courts to approve. Some of those are very low probability - and combined, it's worse. Not that an amendment is an easy thing to do. But if this were easy, it'd be done already. I really think that in a field of very low likelihood options, an Amendment is the least low.

by David C on May 6, 2010 12:35 am • linkreport

Between 1790 and 1801 DC residents voted for Congress members & state delegates in MD and VA. (Senators were elected by state legislatures). Congress's "Organic Act" changed that in 1801, and a new law of Congress can change it back. SCOTUS would be fine with that.

by Tom Coumaris on May 6, 2010 2:54 am • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy -- OFFLOAD THE TERRITORIES??? Just like that??? Throw them out like yesterday's trash???

What are you, some kind of moron? These are American citizens you are talking about, many of whom have served and are serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, many of whom have died fighting in America's wars. Take Guam for example -- it has shouldered a very heavy burden per capita of America's defense by the amount of casualties it has suffered in those wars including the current ones, as well as hosting major military installations such as U.S. Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base because it is "so strategic," "so valuable to America's interest in the Pacific and Asia."

You just need to shut your mouth about the territories unless and until you know something about what you're talking about or at least come up with something a whole lot better than just to cavalierly and arrogantly "off loading" them like excess Government property.

by Robert in MD on May 6, 2010 5:22 am • linkreport

Yeah, how about "off loading" Pakistani terrorists, shoe bombers, and such ilk, who are roaming all over the U.S. waiting for their opportune moment to strike, instead of loyal, patriotic, decent Americans living in the U.S. territories?

A novel idea, huh?

Another brilliant idea -- get rid of illegal immigrants. How about "off loading" THEM insteat of U.S. citizens just living their regular-Joe lives in Guam or any of the other U.S. territories.

If people were paid for stupid comments some people would be set for life.

by wings on May 6, 2010 6:13 am • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy is right. How many of you folks calling for these various other solutions besides statehood are native Washingtonians, or have lived here for more than a few years? As far as I am concerned, as a native Washingtonian- the rest of you have no nickels in that dime! Nothing short of statehood is good enough, and very few folks who actually care anything about the city advocate any of these off-brand solutions.

As for the territories, whether or not the U.S. should own them is a matter of opinion, and if that is his(which I share), so be it- where do some of you get off calling him names because of his opinion?! You're the morons!!! If we were to somehow divest ourselves of responsibility for these territories, it would surely be with due process and plenty of notice- those residents of the territories that wanted to remain U.S. citizens could then move into the U.S. Some of you have no problem suggesting that DC citizens should move into MD or VA in order to get representation, so how about that? I'm not advocating that solution, I'm just saying that the territories need to be turned into independent sovereign entities that the U.S. is no longer "responsible" for.

by KevinM on May 6, 2010 7:44 am • linkreport

@ MPC You can use that same logic to show that the founders had a low preference for representation. After all, they could have just moved back to England, right?

by jcm on May 6, 2010 8:09 am • linkreport

@ Tom, that is true, but since then, the 23rd Amendment was ratified. The wikipedia article does a good job of summarizing the challenges of retrocession. With the money line being "The main problem with any of the proposals is that the state of Maryland does not want to take the District back."

@KevinM, I was unaware that we had tiered citizenship in the District. How long do I have to live here before I have a nickle in the dime? I think it is wrong to impugn the motives of people who have a legitimate difference of opinion. Most Washington residents have supported the off-brand solutions you've discussed (think of all the people who supported the Davis-Norton Bill and the amendment from the 80's. Do Norton, Fenty, the whole District council and a majority of DC residents not care about the city?) I've said it here before, being a native-born Washingtonian doesn't make you any more important or give your voice any more weight than someone who's only lived here 6 months.

by David C on May 6, 2010 9:51 am • linkreport

@ David C-

Says you. I'm just giving my personal opinion that "johnny-come-latelys", carpetbaggers that you are, just don't get it. By the way- if a majority of citizens had been in favor of the amendment from the 80's, that might have passed; and as I recall, Norton was prepared to accept this latest attempt to give DC representation that would have destroyed our gun laws, so that tells you how wrongheaded Norton is, she being desperate to get a vote anyway she can. Again- nothing short of statehood will suffice. DC citizens should be granted full representation in Congress, period, and statehood seems to me to be the best way to get it.

by KevinM on May 6, 2010 10:04 am • linkreport

You just need to shut your mouth about the territories unless and until you know something about what you're talking about or at least come up with something a whole lot better than just to cavalierly and arrogantly "off loading" them like excess Government property.

Bah! If they want their full rights as Americans, let them move to a real American state--like Oklahoma! So tired of folks living in tropical paradises like Puerto Rico while the rest of us have to eke out a living in Hellish crap-holes like Alabama or Georgia. There's a reason folks in large, empty conservative states get super-representation in the Senate. They deserve it.

Want Democracy? Move to Albany, Georgia!

by oboe on May 6, 2010 10:06 am • linkreport

David- The 23rd Amendment only deals with presidential electors. Congress's 1801 "Organic Act" still covers lack of Congressional voting. I'd still assume voting for MD Congress members is the easiest way.

Retrocession would be terrible for DC but I'm not sure MD would refuse. Former Gov. Donald Schaffer supported it and DC has tons of revenue potential.

Politically either way would be a wash since MD is a concrete Dem state anyway nationally. (They may not like us getting a vote on their Senators though).

I think whenever we stray from the simple advocacy for statehood we get into constitutional quagmires but changes to the 1801 Organic Act seems the least objectionable Constitutionally after statehood.

by Tom Coumaris on May 6, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport

@ Ward One Guy: You clearly have not visited any territories and do not understand that they are part of the United States. Just like DC is. And Hawaii for that matter. The folks that live there are American citizens and play fight for your freedom and play sports for you.

Wanna make Alexander Hamilton a foreigner? Tim Duncan? Sorry Kelsey Grammer, go get a green card. You're no American. That purchase of the VIs from Denmark was a mistake. Perhaps you could exchange the VIs back for Greenland. The US does not seem to want to leave there either, despite it clearly being not the US.

The fact that the territories are "far" away from you doesn't mean anything. Amsterdam is closer to DC than Honolulu is, but Charlotte Amalie is closer than Amsterdam.

Furthermore, these islands are too small to be independent states. That's the single reason why so many Caribbean and Pacific islands still live with admittedly odd semi-colonial arrangements. Finally, the possession of those islands gives the US great, great strategic benefits. And that quite frankly is the reason why you have them. And why you want to keep them.

To illustrate that point. Hugo Chavez believes the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) islands belong to Venezuela. The inhabitants of those islands really don't. They like being free and having democracy. However, they are not able to defend themselves. So they stay happily within the Dutch Kingdom and use the Royal Navy to defend them. And it gives the Dutch a nice place to train their navy and do some target practice.

And exactly for that same reason, the US wants to hang on to PR and the USVIs. Yes, Hispaniola is in the way, but it give a nice eastern viewpost on Cuba.

by Jasper on May 6, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

@KevinM - On one hand, you support (somewhat rudely) the right of others to express their own opinions ("As for the territories, whether or not the U.S. should own them is a matter of opinion, and if that is his(which I share), so be it- where do some of you get off calling him names because of his opinion?! You're the morons!!!"). At the same time, you claim that only native Washingtonians can have a valid opinion on DC voting rights/statehood. Pot, meet kettle. Please make up your mind.

And "says you" is not generally considered to be an effective debating technique, at least after third grade.

by dcd on May 6, 2010 10:25 am • linkreport

@KevinM, moving on from whether or not people can be citizens and have a voice in the place they move to even if they weren't born there (considering our Hawaiian-born president was an Illinois Senator) - a question I'm pretty sure the courts have settled, there comes the question of which is easier. I'm not sure. But I do know that the Republican party will fight statehood to the bitter end. It will probably require rescinding the 23rd Amendment, or will at least have to deal with a serious Constitutional challenge.

The fact is that retrocession, statehood and an amendment all give DC residents full representation (President, Congress, Amendment process, contingency elections) so the preference of one over the other is about likelihood and cosmetics. You prefer Statehood, which would give DC residents the most power - and for that reason, I think, will be the most difficult.

by David C on May 6, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

@Tom, The Organic Act made residents of DC no longer residents of MD. If you undo that, what happens to DC's 3 electors? I think this is a Constitutional problem that needs a Constitutional solution.

And even though PR could gain statehood, I think we need to consider the smaller territories as well as any future territories. That's why I like this solution, it creates flexibility.

by David C on May 6, 2010 11:12 am • linkreport

Quite apart from the personal insults hurled around in here, which I did not start(I wasn't the one that started calling folks morons, or third graders), I wonder this- how many folks in here with such definite opinions about what SHOULD be done about representation for DC citizens have actually done one damn thing about it? How many of you have put some sweat in that game, volunteered for DC Vote or contributed a significant sum of money to the cause, or are you all just talking out of the side of your neck?!

by KevinM on May 6, 2010 12:21 pm • linkreport

@KevinM, can you please step through all of the requirements one must meet in order to have an opinion? So far it's (1) Be born in the place you're having an opinion about - unless you want to have an opinion on the territories (2) Have worked in some demonstrable way toward the thing you have an opinion about.

I'm afraid that leaves me limited to having opinions only about biking, education and space exploration in Abington, PA (and the territories) a town I actually know very little about.

by David C on May 6, 2010 12:27 pm • linkreport

@David C:
False. You meet both requirements.

1) You were born in the United States, which espouses very strong views about inalienable rights. A particular government (ours) has deprived certain people of those rights, and that devalues our republic as a whole. So even if you weren't born in DC; even if you don't live in DC, you have a vested interest in voting rights.

2) And you have indeed worked in some demonstrable way toward full citizenship for residents of DC. You have created a proposal and begun publicizing the issue. People from across the nation read this blog; before this article, they may not have been aware of the issue or thought of a lack of voting rights immutable. You are encouraging others to take up the banner. That is demonstrable.

by Matt Johnson on May 6, 2010 12:34 pm • linkreport

The Organic Act can be modified in a way that doesn't interfere with the 23rd's presidential elector scheme.

by Tom Coumaris on May 6, 2010 12:48 pm • linkreport

@ David C
I didn't say you couldn't have an opinion. When I asked what sweat or other equity you had in the game, what I was implying was that I personally place more weight on the opinion of someone who has more standing than just an "observer", if you will. Talk is cheap and easy- walk the walk, is what I was saying...

by Kevinm on May 6, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

Re: "What happens to D.C.'s three electors?"

Short answer: Nothing. D.C. votes for President the same way it always has.

Long answer: In the quasi-retrocession proposal (i.e. allowing DC residents to vote for representatives from Maryland), D.C. residents gain representation by Maryland representatives. This is being accomplished, essentially, by special provision in federal and Maryland law using Congress's power to determine the apportionment of the House and to govern federal elections. In this scenario, D.C. isn't being transferred to Maryland, and D.C. residents aren't becoming Maryland residents. As written, the legislation would be similar to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. That Act signed by President Reagan allows U.S. citizens who reside abroad to vote for members of Congress in whichever state they last maintained residency. Notice that very important point: U.S. citizens who reside overseas are not considered residents of that state, they're not counted in the Census as residents of that state for purposes of Congressional apportionment, they just vote there. So what Rep. Rohrabacher's bill does, in essence, is treat D.C. residents as "overseas" voters in Maryland.

Since it's a special provision in electoral law that is allowing D.C. residents to vote for members of Congress, the same provision could be inserted so that Maryland would simply get the same number of electors it would get based on its own population as required in Article II and D.C. would get its own electors as dictated by the Twenty-third Amendment.

As to the larger points of whether Maryland, Congress, or the Courts would go for this, I can honestly say I have no idea. What I do know is that short of a currently unobtainable Constitutional amendment, statehood, or full retrocession this plans seems to be the most politically savvy option with the highest probably of success to obtain full voting representation for D.C. residents in Congress.

by Adam L on May 6, 2010 3:23 pm • linkreport

Whoa. Looks like I touched a nerve by opposing American imperialism. I have indeed been to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands but not Guam or the other Pacific territories. I admit my language was dismissive and cavalier with respect to the U.S. citizens in the territories who undoubtedly have sacrificed for their country (although not through income taxes, like DC residents). I certainly apologize to territorial residents for being so cavalier. I'm sure I have not thought enough about what to do about the islands with small populations that are so often ruled by foreign powers. I'm sure there are residents who want that relationship, but I just think they should go the route of Hawaii, going all in, or go the route of Philippines, all out. I should have mentioned that.

My personal preference, and that's all it is since I live in DC and not Wake Island or St. Croix, is for statehood for Puerto Rico and DC (possibly by splitting California or some other political compromise) and granting independence to the territories (or possibly joining them to existing states like Hawaii in the Pacific and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean). I think different classes of citizenship is wrong and cannot be sustained.

I also thank those who join me in supporting full statehood for DC. I do welcome opinions of residents of MD and VA and others who don't live here because they must live with the result too. But one should not have to move to realize basic political rights any more than it would have been ok to tell Blacks in Jim Crow South to just shut up and move North if they didn't like it.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 6, 2010 4:12 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, some good arguments there, like the strategic value of forward basing and minimum economies of scale for self-defense, and some not-so-good arguments, like the Tim Duncan appeal. Really? By that logic we should annex the Dominic Republic and achieve world baseball dominance forever.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 6, 2010 4:22 pm • linkreport

@Adam L, so here's the thing. Either DC citizens are part of Maryland and have a voice in the Governor and the Legislature or they are quasi-Maryland residents for the purpose of choosing congressional representation.

In the former, what do you do about the 23rd Amendment? You'd have to rescind it.

In the latter, DC residents have less that 100% voice in the Amendment process. They have no voice in the Governor, who fills empty Senate seats.

So the first is complete, but requires amending the Constitution. The latter doesn't need an amendment but still leaves DC residents as lesser.

Statehood, rescission+amendment and amendment are all complete solutions. And I'd take any, but I really don't want to be a Maryland resident. Though I think Amendment is the easier process.

by David C on May 6, 2010 4:22 pm • linkreport

@Tom "The Organic Act can be modified in a way that doesn't interfere with the 23rd's presidential elector scheme."

How?

by David C on May 6, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper

Hawaii don't count we took overthrown them. If we wanted an island do bad we should have just sailed 300 miles and took Bermuda.

We had Philippines, Cuba, Palau, Marshall Islands, we let those go they could have been states along time ago

The Pacific Islands had no say in the matter.
Many were captured from Spain, Germany or Japan

The Pacific Island Territories want to be states unlike Puerto Rico. There was talk about American Samoa, Guam & NM Islands merging to be one state

Speaking of the size issue why not give RIPP to Connecticut, RIPP is about 3 times the size of Virginia Beach

How the hell did RIPP & Delware get in if size is an issue

by kk on May 6, 2010 8:35 pm • linkreport

I know this is a D.C. blog and all, but these simplistic comments by simple-minded simpletons about "off loading" Guam (and other territories) or this notion of forcing the people there to move to the "U.S." (nevermind that Guamanians are already on sovereign U.S. soil) if they want to keep their U.S. citizenship is just beyond the pale.

[Sorry, but after using Guam since 1898 (and by the way, taking over 1/3 of what used to be private land on an island of only 212 square miles), you can't just get away with saying "let's off load 'those' people" and weasel away like a shiftless absconder. The people there are loyal Americans but they're not doormats, either.]

This is the kind of baloney that comes out of pure ignorance, negligence, or laziness to find out anything about Guam, its people, its culture, its history, and its very special (although sometimes exasperating) relationship with Washington (not the city, but Congress, Executive Branch et al).

by wings on May 6, 2010 9:47 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 Guy -- Sorry, I missed one of your later posts where you clarified some things, mainly about the "off loading the territories" comment.

This is me backing off from my very strong reaction to that.

Thanks!

by wings on May 6, 2010 10:00 pm • linkreport

@Adam L, Besides the fact that U.S. citizens in the territories do not pay federal income taxes

Partially true. Puerto Ricans pay import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes and Medicare taxes, etc. All federal employees working in Puerto Rico, plus those who do business with the federal government, in addition to Puerto Rico-based corporations that intend to send funds to the U.S., and some others also pay federal income taxes. Learn way more than you ever wanted to here.

Not sure about the other territories, but I bet we tax them somehow.

by David C on May 6, 2010 11:25 pm • linkreport

>Besides the fact that U.S. citizens in the territories do not pay federal income taxes enjoy greater home rule<

Guam may not pay federal taxes, but the tax burden is just as difficult as a combined federal and state tax.

In terms of "enjoy greater home rule" -- not really. The military owns one third of the island, and if Guam had true home rule then the U.S. would not have made a deal with Japan to move 8,600 Marines to the island (plus dependents), as well as dig out 70 acres of coral reef for an aircraft carrier, without seeking the consent of Guam. It will stress the island's environment to critical limits.

What Guam does share with DC is being disenfranchised from federal representation. I think the idea behind this post is a solid one; I won't debate the method, but will argue that drawing attention to the total problem is sound: that large numbers of U.S. citizens have been excluded from federal representation, and not just DC. Many people seem unaware of Guam's political status as well as the status of DC.

Regarding Guam and its citizenship. Just to note, 7 Guam residents have been killed in Iraq out of a population of 190,000. During Vietnam, nearly 70 died, out of a population of less than 90,000.

The war has cost Guam, as a percentage of its population, more deaths than a good number of states.

by kob on May 7, 2010 12:04 am • linkreport

Maryland residents - like me who's lived here for 25 + yrs - would definitely want to take this to a referendum. My vote is no. Plain and simple.

DC has its own set of rights, and would want a share of Annapolis, not just for voting representation in the House & Senate.

Plus, what makes Maryland (or Virginia as an alternative idea) better than the other 48 / 49 states? We would be seen as having preferential treatment (even though DC residents wouldn't see it that way).

Plus, the ideas about wanting to do wild & crazy things in / to Prince George's and Montgomery Counties AS IS to accomodate to DC residents is ridiculous, to me. Most of this goes away in exchange for state rights. Unless DC residents would be looking to get fully involved in the politics of Maryland, it doesn't make sense to make the move.

Oh, btw: I am a Baltimore Ravens and Orioles fan: the official football and baseball teams of Maryland.

Now, give DC a say as an independent city in a state government and MAYBE, but the idea fails because Maryland residents would want to bring it to a referendum. Heck, Annapolis might beat me to the punch to say no because of the liability issue.

I'd say as tough as it is to do, follow Eleanor Holmes-Norton's lead, and just let it be.

by C. R. on May 7, 2010 4:04 am • linkreport

Couple of thoughts...
France has no problem with having its overseas lands vote in national elections both for its president and its legislature. People here say that our territories don't pay federal taxes...well THAT should be easy to fix!
Next...getting the DC voting issue to the front burner...here are some options.
1-If you are called to sit on a federal jury, you might ask yourself how can you morally pass judgement on someone when you had zero say in a law's passage?
2-If everyone in DC stopped paying their federal taxes...what would the government do...put all of us into jail??
3-Anyone not born here in DC thought about having dual voting rights...say in your home State....register to vote there for federal elections.
4-How do the folks who live overseas still get a voice and we don't?
5-Invite Arlington and Alexandria and Fairfax to join/rejoin us in the new State of Columbia. Let's face it Richmond hates them anyway!
6-At a minimum...give all the territories a combined electoral vote for presidential elections while making American Samoans citizens instead of "nationals." What the hell does that mean anyway?

by DC John on May 7, 2010 7:23 am • linkreport

The issue is not so much what to do with the territories, but that there seems to be a funny misunderstanding that DCs votings rights are very important while those of the territories are irrelevant. That is about as short sighted as the opinion of people in Utah that voters in DC that want representation should move to MD or VA.

On the other hand, as far as I understand from Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders, they're mostly fine with their situation. Puerto Rico really feels as its own thing, and Virgin Islanders would like to vote, but not so much that they wanna pay federal taxes. Washingtonians on the other hand really want those votes.

by Jasper on May 7, 2010 9:24 am • linkreport

Jasper makes a good point, it is disingenuous to claim it is unfair to treat DC residents as second class citizens but it's OK to treat other Americans as second class. It is entirely possible that not all five (six?) areas involved will even want to be treated as Represented Territories - no one should have to if they don't want to. But the system still works if it is just DC and Guam. Or even just DC. Though, it would be nice to have the organizational help that the other territories could bring with them.

by David C on May 7, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

Part of the difference probably comes from the fact that we live in the seat of government and are constantly surrounded by and connected to the activities of the government, yet we are denied participation in it.

I think Jasper is right - people in the territories seem mostly fine with their situation. Guam is the exception because the military dominates the island. But otherwise it seems that when the territories have had referenda about changing their statuses people either vote to keep it the same or they don't bother to vote at all.

by MLD on May 7, 2010 10:00 am • linkreport

I think a constitutional amendment granting DC a Senator or two and a Representative is the only politically viable option. The federal government will NEVER cede the jurisdictional rights that go with statehood to the District, and a long history of mismanagement aside, it's not altogether clear that this is a bad thing. As the seat of the federal government, it's necessary for federal officials to be able to go about their jobs without interference from local officials.

Right now, if the President needs to get somewhere in an emergency, he can tell the MPD to shut down traffic along the motorcade route unilaterally and get going in 5 minutes. If DC were a state, he would not have the authority to do that, and every time he wanted to go anywhere he'd have to negotiate with the DC governor to get permission.

Likewise, imagine the fights they'll have over property taxes for all those big federal buildings, and how much pressure there will be to develop the Mall into an actual shopping mall.

I suspect you'd also see a highly regressive state income tax implemented, which would drive high earners out of the city and into the suburbs, bringing an abrupt end to the era of DC gentrification.

by Boron on May 7, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

I was sent a link to this paper, that has a very similar proposal and includes responses to many of the criticisms here. It is better researched and cited than this post is (by a long shot) and is a good read for anyone interested in the subject.

by David C on May 7, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

"Equal laws protecting equal rights are the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country." J. Madison

All Americans have the right participate in the process of building a national consensus, to consent to how we are jointly governed.

A broad solution [amendment(s) needed] would include "at-large" "absentee ballots allowing national representation for all Americans not resident in a (one of fity) "state"; eg: DC, territories, AND expatriate Americans who are currently allowed to vote in the state of their last residence. (I think this would involve around ten million Americans worldwide.) Comparable Federal taxation rules should accompany this voting right, for all citizens with voting rights.

by citizenw on May 7, 2010 7:13 pm • linkreport

Who came up with the bright idea of making the people of Guam and other territories move to the "U.S." in order to keep their citizenship -- KevinM?

Have you lost your ever-loving mind? As we move 8,000 troops and their families out of Okinawa and into northern Guam near Andersen Air Force Base, there's an aircraft carrier further south at Apra Harbor/Naval Base Guam to "evacuate" the native Chamorros and other Guamanians who have lived on the island for many generations (at their own expense, of course) if they want to pretty please keep their U.S. citizenship?

That is one of the most cockamamie ideas anybody has ever cooked up in annals of American and world history...PERIOD.

by Robert on May 9, 2010 4:38 pm • linkreport

@ Robert- Now you really should read a person's post before referring to it. It could not have been any more clear that I was not suggesting "...making the people of Guam and other territories move to the U.S. in order to keep their citizenship"!!! As cockamamie as that idea may be, your post is even more so!!!

That suggested move shows just how ridiculous it is to ask that DC residents move to MD or VA in order to get the representation we deserve. Personally, it does not matter to me whether or not residents of the territories get citizenship- that is their concern; however, what I did say is that I do not believe that the U.S. should "own" the territories, that we should relinquish responsibility for them. After that, if any of them want to apply for statehood, all power to them.

by KevinM on May 10, 2010 7:42 am • linkreport

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