The curious case of a major capital city whose people are disenfranchised (but there could be a bright side)

One of the privileges of bucket-list-retirement has been to spend a little time in Washington DC.

There is much to admire in the US constitution and some elements of its democracy. The democratic status of its capital city is not admirable. It’s a “special federal district” – the District of Columbia – not a state. So, it does not have voting representation in Congress. That’s an estimated 536,768 people ( eligible to vote, without someone to vote on their behalf in Congress.

Compare that to the state of Wyoming’s voting-eligible population of 434,852, who elect a voting US House representative and two – count them – two US Senators (out of a total of only 100).

It is an egregious case of disenfranchisement. It is an downright ungrateful way to treat hard working staff (bearing in mind that much of the DC population is employed by, connected to employees of, the federal US government.)

It should also be noted that “DC” is heavily Democrat, as any casual walk along its residential streets will tell you – just going by the posters up in house windows.

(In passing, I should mention Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been DC’s “delegate” to the US House of Representatives since 1991. Such delegates “are entitled to sit in the House of Representatives and vote in committee, and to offer amendments in the Committee of the Whole, but are not allowed to take part in legislative floor votes.” (Wikipedia). By the way, if you are ever in “DC” I would highly recommend The Eleanor bowling lounge, bar and grill, which is named in honour of Eleanor Holmes Norton).

But let’s look on the bright side. If Donald Trump comes before a jury, it is highly likely that he finds himself, by default, facing the prospect of jurors selected from the District of Columbia.

There is a certain delicious irony about that.

No doubt this will lead to a great deal of legal wriggling. Perhaps he will ask for jurors to be shipped in from Wyoming?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Meanwhile let’s rejoice at the defeat of Sarah Palin and a Democrat win in yesterday’s Alaskan special election. As we know well, real votes in First Past the Post elections do not always tally with opinion polls.

  • It’s unlikely this anachronism dating back to 1800 will continue, Paul. In a referendum in DC in 2016, 85% of voters supported statehood. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on the idea in March 2021, and I’d be very surprised if the present system is able to last much longer despite Republican procrastination…… though, as in the UK, the wheels of democracy do grind exceedingly slow.

    On a similar basis north of the Border in the UK, isn’t it about time Lib Dems started trumpeting a positive DEVO MAX message instead of all the usual negative Liberal Imperialist stuff we hear far too much about these days ?

    Whilst I’m having a chunter, why can’t Johnson/Truss/Sunak do stuff on line next week instead of burning unnecessary energy travelling by air to Aberdeen/Balmoral at public expense to deposit a seal of office and kiss an old lady’s hand ?

  • The concept made sense, by not having the federal government buildings subject to state laws. It was not intended to be a primary residential location. So a simple solutions you shrink DC to the federal properties at its core, and return the rest of the area to the states it came from.

    The voting population in the residential areas would then vote in the states their residences had been returned too.

  • Is this anything like the situation we have with the Speaker’s seat?

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 4th Sep '22 - 3:36pm

    I’ve been to DC many times – I go there to study Duke Ellington’s manuscripts at the Smithsonian and have many friends there now. Interesting you should mention this, Paul, as I was reading not too long ago about the increasing calls for something to be done about this democratic deficit.

    As to what FS PEOPLE said: if residents of DC don’t identify as being part of Maryland and have never done so in living memory (it was partitioned in 1788) why should they be forced to become part of it? The solution to problems such as this is never to go around telling people they should be something else. This is like arguing that “Eastern European countries should be a buffer zone between Russia and NATO” rather than giving those countries their own agency.

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 4th Sep '22 - 3:41pm

    David Raw, I’m baffled by your comment as I’m sure we have conversed in the past on these article comment pages on this general policy area? Liberal Democrat policy is for a federal UK, not just “devo max”, and I was one of those who wrote the most recent updates to that policy. Devo max is a nothingness as it means no internal sovereignty for Scotland or any other part of the UK, whereas our policy of federalism eliminates the right of central government to do what it technically can do right now which is to abolish the Scottish Parliament at its whim.

    Thankfully, it isn’t also our policy to have any part of the UK as some bizarre second-class territory as Washington DC is.

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 4th Sep '22 - 3:46pm

    Excellent point from Meg. In my view it’s an abomination that the chair of the House of Commons isn’t an impartial professional but just taken from one of their own and meaning that the electors of that constituency are lumbered with one massive democratic deficit. This should change.

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