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A Capital Vote
We are near the top ten in Amendment Rankings, and this one hits home.
For the past 25 years, I have made Washington, DC my home. There have been times when I have moved away briefly for work, and technically, I did live in the Maryland suburbs for a bit longer than the actual district. But it’s my life, so it’s my rules, and I tell people that I have lived in DC for a quarter of a century. Longer than I lived in Ohio.
It’s been fun to live here. The District of Columbia has an interesting story for this guy who is interested in history.
Initially, the Framers couldn’t figure out where to put the country's capital. They kept moving it around the northeast like a site for a professional sports All-Star Game. It was in New York City. It was in Philadelphia. The guys grew tired of moving around.
Compromise was bought when they decided to move south – thanks to our man Alexander Hamilton and carve out ten miles of land between Virginia and Maryland.
Residents of this area had equal representation just like other Americans until about 1800 when the seat of government was made official – an imaginary place called the District of Columbia. While immediately denying representation, the newly created space's first charter allowed the residents to govern themselves. Then 1874 rolled around, and Congress decided to take that away since the Constitution allowed for it, and it was a century of intense oversight. So no representation and no say in local matters at all. Okay!
It may sound wild, but more and more people moved to DC, and the population grew. By the 1960s, Washington, DC, had a population larger than twelve states (now down to two). It wasn’t until the late 1970s that DC was granted Home Rule and allowed to vote for a mayor and a City Council. There was still oversight, but the day-to-day governing became too much for the white guys who came to town from across the country to handle.
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However, the significant omission remained of providing DC residents their full American rights through representation. This brings us to the Twenty-third Amendment, where the people of the capital have the right to participate in presidential elections and have their vote counted.
Let’s dive in.
11: Amendment XXIII
Its purpose: Extends the right to participate in presidential elections to the seat of Government.
Year proposed: 1960
Year Ratified: 1961
This is a case of taking what you can get. Like the Fifteenth Amendment, the people who pushed the idea of DC representation further knew they couldn’t get everything they wanted. So they settled because it could be worse.
One legislator called the amendment “the first step in the right direction.” It’s another example of where our Constitution provides a pathway to correct injustices that took root when we were founded. We might take small steps, but at least we are walking.
Having a voice in who is elected President of the United States, the Twenty-third Amendment is a good deal.
It didn’t go far enough.
Washington, DC, will continue to grow, and trust me, more condos and apartment buildings are sprouting up every day, and each person who lives here will have to concede their rights that they had in the place they moved from.
Our license plates read Taxation Without Representation. Recently, we saw GOP House members haul DC elected officials into hearing about the recently revised criminal code. Crime is on an upswing in DC; a revised code helps clarify the law for federal prosecutors and the Metropolitan Police Department.
But the outcry over sentencing for carjacking gave Congress all the momentum to move to override the law, and even President Joe Biden signed off on it.
It was a disgusting display of collusion of power by the federal government to suppress the fundamental rights of citizens to decide for themselves how they want to live. This happens nowhere else, and for some reason, people don’t seem to think it’s a problem.
The Twenty-third Amendment was a chance to correct this simple idea.
To continue to beat this drum. There are about 700,000 residents in Washington, DC. They are the only citizens of the continental United States who are not represented in the Legislative branch of the Federal Government. It’s astonishing how this continues to be the case.
Whenever I get into an argument with someone who doesn’t live here about whether residents of DC can vote, people immediately tell me the Constitution prevents it. That is only true because, technically, the District of Columbia is currently the seat of government.
However, pretty much every person I have come across thinks the words District of Columbia appear in the Constitution, and that is simply not the case.
Here’s a link to the Constitution. Tell me where you see the word Columbia in it.
To save you time, I’ll tell you – it isn’t there.
And there is a reason for that.
As I mentioned, the Framers kept moving the capital, and nothing is keeping it in its current location or reducing its size. The Constitution only states the limits of how large the capital can be.
There’s no reason we can’t shrink the federal city, amend the Constitution to override the Twenty-third Amendment, and make the District of Columbia the Douglass Commonwealth. Douglass, of course, is Frederick Douglass, the former enslaved person and abolitionist who resided in DC.
But ugly gang warfare keeps this from happening because DC is overwhelmingly blue in politics. Apparently, it’s more important to keep two Democratic senators off the role than to enfranchise all Americans.
Who proposed it?
New York Republican Kenneth Keating was the leading advocate for giving the residents full participation in the American experiment. There was little opposition to the measure because it was stripped of full representation; the 86th Congress passed it through unanimous voice votes.
It took nine months for the states to ratify, Hawaii being the first. Of the eleven states that failed to ratify – ten were former members of that infamous group of Confederacy. Alabama ratified it in 2002.
Why did I rank it here?
This would easily be a top ten amendment – top five even – if the proposed amendment included full representation. Washington, DC, however, remains the only democratic capital city where citizens are denied the right to self-govern entirely and participate in the legislative process.
We remain outside looking in and suffer the consequences of leaders from other states while we pay the highest federal taxes and our people serve in the military.
The fight for full statehood continues. I even devised a proposal when the Mean Girls asked me how we get out of our partisan mess. I think it’s okay.
Do you think I deserve full representation? How about the generations of people who have called Washington, DC, their home?
Do you think it’s possible DC could become a state? How do you see that happening? Because I got more ideas.
Okay, let me know what you think of my ranking.
Anonymous and I will have our annual street block party tomorrow. We live on a small side street that closes off to public transportation once a year and celebrates how awesome it is to live here.
We will have pony rides and a DJ. A guy with a guitar will jam out while we cook brats and drink beer from kegs. TVs will be showing football and the Ryder Cup, and Blue will hate all of it. All these people, plus a dog show in which he never can participate, will happen right in front of his face. It’s fun to watch.
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