Democracy Comes To DC (Probably)

Residents of Washington DC will at last have representation in Congress. Probably.

By a vote of 61-37, the Senate passed a bill providing full voting representation for the nation’s capital in the House of Representatives, nearly ensuring that the measure will become law this time around. While advocates were declaring victory already, a court fight almost definitely looms over the constitutionality of giving the District of Columbia voting privileges in the House that are akin to those of the 50 states. The measure, if it became law, would increase the size of the House of Representatives to 437 from 435, adding not only a seat from the District of Columbia but also one from Utah. The Western seat was added in a compromise deal a few years back, to help attract Republican support and because officials contended that the state was deprived of an additional congressional district through an undercount in the 2000 Census. (Also Utah’s Republican lean would also help balance out the normally Democratic tilt of the district.)

The House is expected to approve their version of the bill, as they have done before. President Obama is expected to sign on. But there will still likely be a court battle because the Constitution limits representation in Congress to states only. Getting the required 38 of the states to approve an amendment specifically allowing an additional district for DC would prove quite cumbersome, if it could be done at all. Opponents have suggested giving DC back to Maryland or just allowing residents to vote for Maryland’s congressional candidates. Arlington and part of Alexandria were given back to Virginia in 1846, which is why DC no longer has its nifty original square shape. We are the only democracy in the world in which residents of the capital city cannot vote on representation in the legislature.