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The World’s Greatest Democracy? Not if You Live in the Nation’s Capital

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Ah, election day. The day I’m reminded of the fact that I, along with my fellow residents of the District of Columbia, have no voting representation in Congress.

Yes, you read that correctly: we have no senators (you have two) and no voting member of the House of Representatives (you have one; our gal is just a liaison). 

Okay, so they all stink. Still, you have them and we don’t. Talk about a stench.   

We’re taxed at the same rate you are. We’ve fought valiantly in our armed forces; some of us have even died doing it. We’re subject to the same (often idiotic) laws. We suffer the same crumbling infrastructure and declining schools. We’re out of jobs too. 

But whereas you can call your elected members of Congress about whatever federal ill ails you (or vote for someone else the next time or even run for office and try to fix it yourself), all we can do is fume at our fellow Americans who are complicit in keeping us disenfranchised, willingly or not. 

Some democracy. 

Yeah, I know, the Constitution says that the District of Columbia is the seat of the federal government, not a state, and therefore its residents are not entitled to congressional representation. Opponents of D.C. voting rights remind us of this fact every chance they get. 

If the Constitution had never been amended then that line of reasoning would make sense. It would be unfair, but it would be consistent.  

But the Constitution’s been amended twenty-seven times, including amendments to abolish slavery and to give women the right to vote. So what’s the problem with amending it again to rectify what the founding fathers surely never anticipated: 600,000 disenfranchised Americans.

In fact, D.C. is more populous than Wyoming, similar in size to Vermont and North Dakota, and not far behind Alaska. They all have senators. 

The crux of the problem is that the overwhelming majority of D.C. residents are registered Democrats (I’m not).   

If you think it’s just the Republicans who oppose giving us congressional representation, you would be wrong. Conservative Democrats don’t want us voting either. 

But don’t hold your breath waiting for the opposition to say so publicly. Admitting you’re intentionally denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of patriotic, law-abiding American taxpayers to advance your career might seem indecent.

Frankly, it’s disgusting and appalling.  

This is democracy 101, folks. It’s not about who belongs to what party. It’s about an ideal, namely that our government is one of the people. No taxation without representation isn’t supposed to just be the D.C. license-plate slogan. It’s supposed to define us as a democracy.  

Subjecting more than half a million Americans to laws we had no say whatsoever in enacting is not democracy; it’s dictatorship. We’re at the mercy of the knuckleheads the rest of you are electing (thanks).  

If you think you’re frustrated with government, imagine how we feel. We had no input into health-care legislation, Afghanistan, the economic stimulus bill, fixing the housing crisis, nothing. 

Lately there’s been talk of a compromise: we would get one member of the House of Representatives and so would Utah (which is heavily Republican). We would still be denied representation in the Senate. 

Somehow this infuriates me even more than not having any representation at all. It completely misses the larger point. And I am not one-third of a citizen. It’s insulting to my intelligence and my (American) values.  

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to want the same voting rights everyone else has. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be forced to pay the same federal tax rates (if any). It seems fundamentally wrong to take our tax dollars but not allow us any input into how that money is spent.   

Happy election day, America. Enjoy your vote. 

Kelly worked for Senator Joe Lieberman and served on the 9/11 Commission. She’s a registered Independent.


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