If I asked you to name the specific inequalities D.C. suffers from, what would you say? Well, the District doesn’t have any votes in Congress, that’s basically all there is, right? Wrong. Those more in tune with the movement might even toss around phrases like “budgetary and legislative autonomy,” but those are the tired words of a broken record movement. Some have even asked if the people of D.C. can vote for President, which is, embarrassingly, a perfectly reasonable question.
The story goes that a Russian official poked fun at the fact that the citizens of the capital city of the free world were being denied even the most basic democratic rights. In response to the embarrassingly accurate criticism launched at them from the “Commies,” of all people, the Congress proposed what would become the 23rd Amendment. Following its ratification, residents of the capital were finally allowed to vote for President in the 1964 election and many saw it as a huge step towards equality.
But Congress made sure that the victory would be bittersweet for the citizens of D.C. In plain language, federal lawmakers guaranteed that if the District must be allowed to vote in presidential elections, then it ought to be treated as something other than a state.
“A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.”
The text speaks for itself, but allow me to emphasize a few points. Congress very intentionally limited the number of electors D.C. could receive to the same amount as the least populous state. According to the 1960 census, the District’s population was greater than that of 11 states, and had it been a state (or had Congress chosen to treat it as such for the purposes of the Electoral College) it would have been entitled to four electors. Instead, D.C. was awarded three electors, the same amount received by Alaska, whose population was less than one-third that of the District.
This issue is particularly disturbing to me because Congress had to go out of its way to make sure that District residents were treated as second-class citizens. It was as if they said, “The District of Columbia shall always be treated as something other, and less, than a state.” They could have saved a couple lines worth of ink, but Congress instead decided to spit in the face of both basic, common sense, democratic ideals and the 750,000 residents of D.C.
If it sounds like I’m angry, it’s because I am. The federal government has consistently insulted the principles of basic human rights that the founders believed in when they wrote that “all men are created equal” and bloodily fought to end taxation without representation. Almost 250 years later, their message has not been lost. Each insult only serves to unify this great city in our struggle for pure, irrevocable equality.
President, Students for DC Statehood