Amid talk of D.C. statehood, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder brought increased attention to the District’s lack of voting representation in Congress in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus on Sept. 26.
Holder, a D.C. resident, gave the speech a day after announcing his plans to resign and focused on ensuring voting rights in states across the country.
“It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities and full rights, including the more than 600,000 taxpayers who, like me, live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress,” Holder said.
According to CNN, Holder said that he would remain Attorney General until his successor is confirmed.
Currently, the District of Columbia has one non-voting delegate in the House and no representatives in the Senate. The District has three electoral votes in presidential elections, but Congress has overriding jurisdiction over the city’s affairs.
Additionally, Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.) and Mayor Vincent Gray testified in favor of statehood before a Senate committee Sept. 15, the first hearing on the issue in over 20 years.
The struggle for D.C. voting rights has been caught up in politics. In 2010, Democrats abandoned a bill that would have granted the District a voting seat in the House of Representatives when it became clear that part of the bill would repeal many of the city’s gun control laws.
Since the passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 granted D.C. residents the right to vote in presidential elections, the city has never voted for a Republican candidate. Georgetown University College Democrats President Chandini Jha (COL ’16) pointed to the Democratic makeup of the District as an impediment to meaningful change.
“From a purely political aspect, there must obviously be considerations given the fact that D.C. has always voted very blue,” Jha said. “To be truthful, I think there is a political calculation, and I think that’s why there is opposition along partisan lines.”
D.C. resident and Georgetown professor of government Stephen Wayne agreed.
“The reason there is no change today is because Republicans see it as a Democratic seat,” he said. “I don’t see this going anywhere. I think the best we can do is our license plate.”
The D.C. license plate reads “Taxation without Representation,” a rallying cry for the voting rights movement.
Washington residents pay some of the highest federal taxes per capita in the country. In the 2012 fiscal year, D.C. residents paid $32,811.79 in revenue per capita, much higher than the U.S. average revenue per capita of $7,918.73.
Jha did not think that the tax discrepancy was the most compelling argument for Congressional representation.
“The federal government directly helps us with our D.C. Council and some governmental expenses, so it is hard to say that we don’t have representation from a purely economic standpoint,” she said.
Wayne said that he thought the movement was doomed to fail, regardless of whether D.C. aimed to gain representation through statehood or through a constitutional amendment.
“We can’t even get policy through Congress, let alone two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states to vote for that,” Wayne said. “Politically, people are self-interested rather than idealistic.”
With the political gridlock, D.C. area residents, including Wayne, shared Holder’s frustration.
“Obviously, those of us who live here would like to see voting representation,” Wayne said. “After all, I teach a course about Congress and I can’t even vote for Congress.”
Aidan Kenney (COL ’18) felt disconnected from federal politics despite living in the nation’s capital.
“I think it is unfair and arbitrary,” Kenney said. “It is absurd that a politically engaged city like D.C. is left out of federal politics.”
Nationwide, there is overwhelming popular support for D.C. voting rights. A poll conducted by D.C. Vote, an advocacy group focused on the issue, found that 82 percent of Americans favored such a measure. Supporters of both parties were in favor of D.C. voting rights. According to the poll, 77 percent of self-identified Republicans and 87 percent of self-identified Democrats voiced support for D.C. voting rights.
Jha hoped that the difficulty in bringing full representation to D.C. would lead students to become more engaged in government locally.
“It would be great to see more students involved in advocacy,” Jha said. “We should focus more on educating and encouraging students to get involved in local government.”