District of Columbia residents are destined to remain half-citizens, or less, of the United States for some time to come. The proposed D.C. voting-rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution will expire in August, seven years after it was passed by Congress. It has been ratified by only 16 of the 34 required states, and, mathematically, there is no chance that 18 more can approve the amendment by August.
The amendment would have given D.C. residents full voting rights in both the U.S. House and the Senate, meaning representation by two senators and at least one House member. Under current law, the district’s 638,000 residents can vote for President and vice president, an extension of suffrage enjoyed by the Columbians since 1964. But their representation in Congress is limited to one non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives.
It is not difficult to determine why the D.C. voting-rights amendment has failed so dramatically. Walter E. Fauntroy, the incumbent D.C. delegate in the House, summed it up neatly this way: “The District of Columbia is too urban, too liberal, too Democratic and too black.” Just look at the states that did ratify the amendment. There is only one Southern state, Louisiana; just two bordering the old South, West Virginia and Maryland, and only two in the West, Oregon and Hawaii.
A statehood proposal has been approved by district residents, but it is not likely to win congressional approval. The idea of turning the district back to Maryland is burdened by a variety of political and logistical problems.
Washington, D.C., is more than just a federal support city populated by bureaucrats. Maryland and Virginia each have more federal employees than the district. For that matter, so does California. The district, with a larger population than at least five states, deserves full representation in the affairs of the nation. Efforts to achieve that goal should not be written off with the death of the voting-rights amendment.
California could add its symbolic voice to a new D.C. voting-rights effort by ratifying the amendment before its August expiration.