In a recent opinion piece here, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) argued that District voters should not “get sidetracked by bewilderment and disappointment in the national election” in seeking full budget authority and voting rights. Yet, Norton argued these are achievable exclusively through D.C. becoming the 51st state. This sentiment is politically understandable in the District, but it remains wanting for a realistic solution, and therefore is misguided.
We at Douglass County, Maryland are here to help. We are a recently formed 501(c)(4) that strives to propose and get adopted innovative legislation that helps with an actual solution, not political talking points. We are named after and draw inspiration from Frederick Douglass, and our name, not coincidentally, would permit D.C. to remain “D.C.”
We argue that the problem of D.C. voting rights has been and should be purely non-partisan and based on the Constitution.
With the District’s resurgence as an economically stable and livable city, and with positive polling in Maryland, the District rejoining Maryland is now more feasible than ever. However, it requires also some historical perspective of the District and what the Founders envisioned.
Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist with ties to both the District and Maryland, said what should resonate to the Civil Rights issue of D.C. voting rights: “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.” It’s time for some hard yet honest, truth. As long as D.C. voting rights are focused on the District becoming the 51st state, progress will be stagnant and residents will suffer the indignity of both not voting for and being unrepresented in Congress.
The statehood quest is a recent phenomenon in the District, mainly since Home Rule began in 1973.
Previous other versions of achieving voting rights were of dubious legality such as a bipartisan bill that would give the District a vote in Congress while giving heavily Republican Utah an additional congressional seat; such bipartisanship being disingenuously claimed primarily based on the Republican Utah senators supporting the bill. This legislation, while well meaning, would have been temporary until the next Census, a measure that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President Obama found was not even defendable as constitutional. Two years ago, we attended a Senate hearing on D.C. statehood that was well attended by motivated citizens and activists concerned about the short- and long-term civil rights injustices. But only the Senate Democratic chairperson was in attendance. These temporary and partisan political shows should be rejected.
Obviously, with three participating legislative bodies — Congress, the Maryland General Assembly and the D.C. Council — there can be reasoned disagreement and discussion on how Douglass County, Md., should be created. Three jurisdictions approving majority vote legislation is actually easier than the constitutional run-arounds that have been previously proposed and doesn’t require a constitutional amendment. Two of these legislatures are Democratic-led; the third is Republican-led. Realistically, non-partisan is the only way forward, but even if partisanship should be a consideration, the District D.C. rejoining Maryland would pair two overwhelmingly Democratic jurisdictions and therefore minimally affect the partisanship balance in Congress. Regardless, D.C. voting rights is fundamentally a civil rights issue that should be uniting to all.
History and the Constitution support a non-partisan solution through Maryland. It was never the Founders’ intent that the District not have a vote in Congress. When retrocession of Alexandria and Arlington occurred in 1847, Maryland should have followed suit, at least as to the obvious voting rights injustice. Instead, the tensions underlying the Civil War intervened.
It may be naive in a way, but people when they see injustice feel obligated to correct it.
The time is now. We respectfully argue that the long-term solution is the creation of Douglass County, Md. We intend to study the economies of scale that will result from the creation of Douglass County and, through commissions made up of representatives of each of the three jurisdictions, examine how to best implement such a solution.
Meanwhile, we at Douglass County, Maryland plan to propose constitutionally sound and non-partisan legislation that would allow D.C. voters to vote as part of a new 9th Congressional District of Maryland while retaining their present independent government structure. As a legislative correction on the 1801 Maryland Organic Act, erroneously not providing D.C. residents the then nascent right to vote in federal elections, this is constitutionally feasible.
Michael Wein and David Krucoff are legislative director and executive director, respectively, of Douglass County, Maryland.