Washington D.C. Mayor Calls For Citywide Vote To Make District Of Columbia The 51st State

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser called Friday for a citywide vote that could result in the capitol of the United States transforming into the 51st state.

The D.C. mayor’s plan hinges on a citywide vote on statehood, placing the issue before Congress, which would have to agree to move forward with the process. According to the Washington Post, Congress could use the “Tennessee model,” where statehood would be granted if the residents of the District of Columbia successfully vote to approve a state constitution and conform to a Republican style of government.

Since any hypothetical state formed from the District of Columbia would likely elect two Democrat senators, Bowser’s plan will probably be a hard sell to a Republican-controlled Congress.

district of columbia statehood vote
Mayor Muriel Bowser wants a vote that could lead to the District of Columbia becoming a state. [AP Photo/Cliff Owen]

This isn’t the first time that the issue of Washington, D.C., statehood has come up, and voters even approved a constitution in a 1982 vote.

The primary issue at hand, and the reason that Bowser and other residents of the nation’s capital want to turn their city into a state, is disenfranchisement.

Unlike residents of the 50 states, but similar to residents of territories like Puerto Rico and Guam, citizens of Washington, D.C., have no real representation. Although they do send one representative to the House, that representative doesn’t actually have a vote.

If Washington, D.C., did become a state, its currently non-voting representative in the House would receive a vote, and the new state would also be granted two senators, just like every other state.

“I propose we take another bold step toward democracy in the District of Columbia,” D.C. Mayor Bowser said at a breakfast event. “It’s going to require that we send a bold message to the Congress and the rest of the country, that we demand not only a vote in the House of Representatives. We demand two senators — the full rights of citizenship in this great nation.”

When Washington, D.C., was originally carved out of Maryland and Virginia, it was already small — a square just 10 miles on each side. The land granted by Virginia was later returned to that state, leaving Washington, D.C., with about 61 square miles of territory.

This leads to the issue where residents of Washington, D.C., often live in very close proximity to residents of Maryland, who are able to vote for representation in both houses of Congress.

Mayor Bowser pointed this out when she called for a citywide vote on statehood, describing the plight of a young girl born in a poor D.C. neighborhood situated east of the Anacostia River.

“When she prepares to vote when she turns 18, she will not have the right to vote for senator. But if she moved just one mile away, she would have representation and she would have two senators. But by living in D.C., those rights are stolen from her.”

Although Washington, D.C., was originally intended to serve as a federal district not beholden to any state, more than 670,000 people now live in the city. This creates a problem where the city finances and other factors are under the direct purview of Congress, while the residents of the district don’t have any real representation.

washington dc statehood
Washington D.C. is only about 61 square miles, after nearly half the district was returned to Virginia, but over 670,000 people live there. [AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]

For much of the history of the District of Columbia, residents weren’t even able to vote in presidential elections. That changed in the 1960s, when Washington, D.C., was allocated a number of electoral votes. However, residents still lack representation in the Senate and only send a non-voting member to the House of Representatives.

Some proponents of Washington, D.C., statehood point out that states like Wyoming have two senators despite having a lower population than the District of Columbia.

If Mayor Bowser’s plan to call for a citywide vote and turn the Washington, D.C., into the 51st state is successful, the District of Columbia would also become the smallest state. Rhode Island, which has just over one million residents, is currently the smallest state, with barely 1,000 square miles of land.

Do you think that Washington, D.C., should become the 51st state, or is there a better solution, like returning the remainder of the district to Maryland, that would provide its residents with representation in Congress?

[Photo by Cliff Owen/AP Images]