NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fairness To D.C., and the States

January 14, 2004

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has been represented in Congress by a nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives (as are such territories as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands). But unlike U.S. citizens in the territories, in 1960 Congress passed, and the states ratified, the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, giving Washington three presidential electors.

However, D.C. residents have lobbied for decades for two senators and a representative of their own with the right to vote in the two Houses. In 1978, a heavily Democratic Congress passed a constitutional amendment that would have done so. The Amendment died in 1985 when only 16 of the required 38 states had ratified it within seven years.

The current situation is unfair, says historian John Steele Gordon; but proposals to treat D.C. like a state also would be unfair:

  • Washington is a city and bears no resemblance to a state; it is only the 23rd-largest city.
  • Even tiny Rhode Island has a land area 18 times that of D.C.
  • According to Census Bureau 2002 estimates, only Wyoming has a smaller population than D.C., which, like most large eastern cities, has been losing population to its suburbs for decades.
  • Senators representing the District of Columbia would in a very real sense be representing the federal government (and would inevitably be Democrats).

There are solutions. Congress could amend the Organic Acts of 1801 to allow district residents to vote for members of Congress as though they were citizens of Maryland. This would give Maryland another seat in Congress and another electoral vote. But that would mean D.C. residents would be overrepresented in the electoral vote, so repeal of the 23rd Amendment is needed.

Source: John Steele Gordon, "A Senator from D.C.?" Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2004.

For WSJ text (requires subscription),,SB107404441488898400,00.html


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