Today marks the third anniversary of congressional passage of legislation that would, if ratified by 38 states, amend the Constitution to allow the citizens of the District of Columbia full voting representation in Congress. On each of the first two anniversaries I reported in the Post on the progress of ratification and was accused, apparently quite rightly, of over-optimism. At this point, ratification looks considerably tougher, and there is just no use trying to hide the fact.
Only 10 states have approved the amendment in the three years since Congress acted. In the first year of the drive, seven states ratified it. Last year only two did. This year just one additional state was added to the ratification rolls.
No amendment to the Constitution has ever been adopted with only 6 ratifications in the first year or 10 in the first three. The simple fact is that without a major transfusion of energy into the ratification drive, we are not likely to see the necessary 38 states pass this amendment before the seven-year period for adoption expires in August 1985.
So what's wrong?
It's certainly not the absence of merit in the case for ratification. One has yet to hear a reasoned argument why 700,000 American citizens should be denied their right to duly elected representatives in the Senate and House. No one says we are too small (we have mroe voters than six states), too poor (we pay the second-highest per capita income tax), too unpatriotic (we sent more citizens to die in Vietnam than 10 states did.) The only argument against ratification, if you can call it an argument, is that D.C. citizens shouldn't have the right to vote because of whom they might vote for -- black, liberal, urban Democrats. But that's an immoral argument, and everybody using it knows it is immoral to deny the franchise because of how it might be exercised. Besides, it is unconstitutional: "Fencing out from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is consitutionally impermissible. The exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions . . . cannot constitutionally be ovliterated because of a fear of the political views of a particular group of bona fide residents." That's not some supporter of the Voting Rights Amendment talking: it is Justice Potter Stewart speaking for the Supreme Court in 1965.
So, if there is no argument against us worth a damn, why are we getting beat?
The answer, I believe, must lie in the fact that imoral and unconstitutional arguments flourish in the ignorance and apathy of darkness, and can only be exposed and uprooted by letting in the bright sunshine of knowledge and interest. Those who today stand in the way of ratification avoid the scrutiny of public opinion because there is neither scrutiny nor public opinion. The percentage of people who know D.C. residents are denied the right to vote is infinitesimal. State legislators who don't want two black, urban, liberal Democrats in the U.S. Senate have no fear of voter disapproval, because nobody even knows there is any such issue. Ignorance is a roadblock only a massive public education campaign can overcome and that takes -- you guessed it -- both money and effort.
With adequate resources we can still succeed in seven state legislatures a year and win this struggle by 1985. The League of Women Voters, Common Cause, some national trade unions and church groups, have done more than their fair share for ratification. Public-spirited individuals have done what they can. Richard Clark, the chairman of Self-Determination for D.C., has been tireless; the two excellent fulltime staff members keep on working day and night, often -- and right now -- without pay.
In fact, it is the business community (with a few public-spirited exceptions) that has failed the District in the drive for ratification. It will take, at a guess, a minimum of $1 million (a quarter of a million a year for the remaining four years) to make the public education effort that is required. Only the merchants, bankers, builders, developers, insurers, public relations firms, corporate lawyers and the rest of the business and professional community can provide those funds and the know-how for the needed nationwide public education program. Self-Determination for D.C. is ready when they are. What's in it for the business community? The gratitude, esteem and respect of the entire District. That should be enough.