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Alison Smith is a member of the board of the League of Women Voters of Maine.
Imagine being an American who resides in the United States, votes in every election, pays taxes, serves in the military and shows up when called for jury duty, but has no voting representation in Congress.
That is the unfortunate case for the 700,000 Americans living in Washington, D.C. The time has come to right this fundamental wrong.
In 2016, voters in Washington did what Americans with a grievance have done since our earliest days: they petitioned their government. The result is the Washington DC Admission Act, which passed in the House and is now before the Senate (S. 51). It would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state.
Statehood will achieve full voting representation in Congress for DC residents, and it will solve other problems stemming from DC’s unique status.
When it comes to local affairs, DC lacks sovereignty. Local laws can’t go into effect without congressional approval, and Congress may modify or overturn them. In 2016, when 86 percent of DC voters endorsed the statehood petition, Congress attempted to change or overturn 25 local laws.
Does Congress know better than elected officials and voters in DC? Of course not. But on the minimum wage, needle exchange programs, reproductive choice, gun control and marriage equality, Congress has substituted its preferences for the expressed desires of DC residents again and again. DC only gets what it wants if Congress, a legislative body with not a single voting member representing DC, agrees.
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “No taxation without representation.” But history left DC out when it comes to this founding ideal. DC residents pay federal taxes but have no voting representation in the federal government.
That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. Congress also has control over DC’s local budget, which is funded entirely with locally raised revenue.
DC voters passed a ballot measure calling for fiscal autonomy back in 2013, and it was upheld in a legal challenge.
What happened next? Congress overturned it.
DC’s local government has three branches — executive, legislative and judicial — just like every state. But when it comes to choosing judges, DC residents don’t have a say. The president of the United States appoints their judges instead.
The call for statehood is a call for self-determination. It’s one that we must all heed. If democracy is to work for all of us, it must include all of us. And that means full enfranchisement and local sovereignty for Washington, D.C.
When it comes to civil rights, the solution can’t be to split the difference, compromise the rights that are at stake, or wait for some perfect time that will never arrive. Our constitution calls for equal protection under the law, and this promise remains unfulfilled as long as these injustices continue. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Imagine the frustration in DC recently as the Senate debated whether Congress should investigate the violent attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, a horror show to which DC folks had front-row seats. Alone among Americans, they had no senators to call. No senators representing their interest.
The public debate on S. 51 is full of hand-wringing about partisanship. It’s just noise. This is an issue of right and wrong.
We are all Americans, and no one can tell us how to vote. It’s true in the bluest of blue states, the reddest of red states, and everywhere else. DC residents need representation, and when they get it, DC voters alone will determine who will serve them. This is exactly as it should be.
Fellow Mainers, I know you appreciate your ability to contact Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King when an issue of importance comes up. Please use that ability now and do what DC residents cannot. Give voice to the 700,00 Americans in DC who are anxiously awaiting redress, and make sure the Senate makes good on the promise of democracy for all.