The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Voting represention for D.C., but not statehood

The D.C. and U.S. flags on Sept. 12, 2014, in D.C.
The D.C. and U.S. flags on Sept. 12, 2014, in D.C. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Regarding Michael D. Brown’s Oct. 31 Local Opinions essay, “D.C. statehood is a voting rights issue, and we’re not asking anymore”:

Demands for D.C. statehood ignore the Constitution. By lodging the federal seat of government in its own district, separate from any state, the Constitution ensures a federally controlled buffer to help protect that government. Giving that control to a new state would undermine that protection.

Arguably, statehood need not eliminate the federal district, only shrink it. But, under the 23rd Amendment, that smaller district would still have three electoral votes. Adding in the three votes of the new state would make six — an unfair result. Just as the 23rd Amendment explicitly fixed D.C.’s role in presidential elections, it implicitly fixed D.C.’s boundaries. Congress cannot multiply that role by turning part of D.C. into a state with separate electors. Any change requires changing the Constitution.

“Taxation without representation” for D.C. is a problem. But we need not choose between statehood and the status quo. We should compromise: Amend the Constitution to give D.C. voting representation in the House, based on population. All revenue-raising bills originate in the House, ensuring no more taxation without representation for D.C.

Senate seats, however, must be reserved for states. Indeed, under Article V, diminishing the states’ role in that body would likely require their unanimous consent.

Yet, just as the Founders created the Senate to represent states, they created the House to represent the people directly. Perhaps, D.C. was once too small to warrant its own seat, but that changed long ago. Providing representation by constitutional amendment is a compromise that everyone should support.

William H. Hurd, Richmond