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Should Washington, D.C., Get a Vote in Congress?

Congress is considering a bill that would give the District a vote in the House, but critics argue it's unconstitutional

Centuries after it was a rallying cry in the American Revolution, "taxation without representation" is still a fact of life for the 600,000 Americans who live in Washington, D.C.

District of Columbia residents pay more federal taxes per capita than any state except Connecticut. They serve on juries, and fight and die in wars. Yet they have no voting members in the House of Representatives or the Senate—no say on health care, education, the economy, the environment, and the military.

Since World War I, almost 200,000 D.C. residents have served in the military, and nearly 2,000 have died in combat. Hundreds fight today to promote democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan—but all are denied democracy at home.

It's time to put an end to this injustice, and there is a way to fix this problem. Congress has the authority under the District Clause of the Constitution to give D.C. a vote in the House of Representatives, and a bill now before Congress would provide D.C. residents their first-ever voting member. Passing this bill would be a big step toward equality for D.C. residents.

Opponents argue that the Constitution says members of the House can only be elected by "people of the several states." In fact, D.C. is already treated as a state in hundreds of ways. Most notably, D.C. is treated as a state for the purposes of federal taxation: The Constitution states that federal taxes can be levied "among the several states." But District residents pay billions every year in federal taxes.

Money aside, Congress makes life or death decisions that affect Americans every day. D.C. residents shouldn't be left without a voice in these critical issues.

Ilir Zherka
Executive Director, DC Vote

Washington, D.C., was designed by the Founders to function differently than a state, to be autonomous and not subject to the pressures of a state government. This argument is just as relevant today as it was 220 years ago.

Those who support the current legislation to give D.C. a congressional vote claim that the residents of the capital do not have representation in Congress.

That is not so: The entire Congress represents the interests of the District, because every member of Congress works there. The numbers support this. Every year, Congress appropriates millions of dollars for the District.

Congress itself has recognized that the only way D.C. can get a congressional vote is through a constitutional amendment. It passed such an amendment in 1977, but it failed to gain the ratification of 38 states as required, and thus didn't take effect.

Similarly, it took an amendment—the 23rd, ratified by the required number of states in 1961—to give D.C. residents the right to vote for President. If that right could have been granted through legislation, there would have been no need to go through the much more difficult process of amending the Constitution.

The courts have recognized this too. In 2000, a federal court ruled, and the Supreme Court later affirmed, that D.C. residents are not entitled to representation in Congress: "The Constitution does not contemplate that the District may serve as a state for purposes of the apportionment of congressional representatives."

Those who support congressional voting rights for the District know that there is insufficient support nationwide to amend the Constitution to do so. So they're willing to pass a law that violates the Constitution instead.

Hans A. Von Spakovsky
The Heritage Foundation