Did Washington D.C. Vote For Statehood? The Decision Is Only A First Step

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: The Senate side of the US Capitol is shown October 11, 2016 in Washington DC. House and Senate Republicans are in a close race with Democrats to keep control of both houses of Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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The District of Columbia has long been an electoral anomaly: not officially a state, yet full of American citizens. But residents of Washington, D.C. took the chance to vote on official statehood with a ballot referendum approved in time for the Nov. 8 election. Since that the measure has passed, the District of Columbia might become the fifty-first U.S. state. However, proponents of statehood will now need Congress on board, and with Republican control of both chambers, congressional cooperation seems unlikely. 

There are solid arguments both for and against granting statehood to the District of Columbia. On paper, it looks ludicrous, not to mention unjust, to bar 650,000-plus American citizens from Senate representation. Local license plates say as much, with the default option reading "Taxation Without Representation," a little mantra many will remember from history class as the rallying cry of the American Revolution. That's not exactly an inspiring message coming out of the capitol city. 

Residents of Washington, D.C., do send one member to the House of Representatives, a position currently held by Eleanor Holmes Norton. But even these elected officials lack the same voting power as their peers from the 50 recognized states. 

On the other hand, the uniqueness of Washington, DC, as governmental entity was laid out at the nation's founding. James Madison in particular articulated the need for a separate space, essentially run by the federal government, in which elected officials could live and work without being harassed by local voters.

Perhaps the best compromise put forward has been the idea of Maryland essentially reuniting with the District of Columbia. In that scenario, ballots of voters in the D.C. area would go towards choosing Maryland's House and Senate elected officials. That would give the currently unrepresented population of Washington, D.C. a voice in the federal government.

But don't expect Democrats to be satisfied with that plan. As with most contested hot topics, the issue of D.C. statehood falls largely along party lines. Since the majority of voters in Washington, D.C. are Democrats, it would behoove the party to gain an extra two Senate seats. In fact, many Republicans fear precisely this, pointing out that those two extra Democrats could essentially lock in Democratic control of the upper chamber. And since voters elected to keep Republicans in control of the House and Senate, those hoping for statehood for the District of Columbia should not hold their breath. 

Still, the D.C. Council responsible for putting together the referendum hopes its passage will "pressure Congress" to take action and hold a vote of its own. Congress has taken up the issue a number of times in the past. Unfortunately for those hoping for a "New Columbia" state, the past does not bode well for that possibility. 

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