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The League of Women Voters, born in 1920 out of the struggle to get the vote for women, began early to seek redress for another disenfranchised group: the citizens of the District of Columbia. The League has supported District self-government since 1938. Realization of these goals has been slow, but since 1961 DC residents have made some gains in the drive for full citizenship rights. The remaining goals—voting representation in both the House and Senate and full home-rule powers—were made explicit in the LWVUS program in March 1982.
The League has applied a wide variety of techniques, including a massive petition campaign in 1970, to persuade Congress to change the status of the “Last Colony.” League support has been behind each hard-won step: the right of District citizens to vote for President and Vice-President, through ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution in 1961; the right to elect a nonvoting delegate to Congress in 1970; a 1974 limited home-rule charter providing for an elected mayor and city council, based on the 1973 DC Self Government and Governmental Reorganization Act. The League supported the last two reforms as interim steps until voting representation in Congress and full home-rule powers are achieved.
On August 22, 1978, the Senate confirmed the House-approved constitutional amendment providing full voting representation in Congress for citizens of the District of Columbia. State and local Leagues took the lead in ratification efforts. However, when the ratification period expired in 1985, only 16 states of the necessary 38 had ratified the amendment.
In 1993, at the request of the LWV of the District of Columbia, the LWVUS board agreed that statehood for the District would “afford the same rights of self-government and full voting representation” for citizens of the District as for other U.S. citizens. Accordingly, the League endorsed statehood as one way of implementing the national League position.
The 1998 Convention agreed to incorporate “full congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia” in the Making Democracy Work issue for emphasis. In September 1998, DC League members were among the plaintiffs in a federal suit, Alexander et al. v. Daley et al., challenging the denial of full voting representation for citizens of the District in Congress. This and a related suit were rejected 2-1 by a three-judge panel of the court in March 2000. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and the LWVUS filed an amicus brief in September 2000. Later in 2000, the Supreme Court rejected voting rights in Congress for District of Columbia citizens.
The LWVUS was instrumental in the formation of the Coalition for DC Representation in Congress (DC Vote), which seeks to build a national political movement supporting full representation in Congress for the citizens of DC.
Convention 2000 adopted a concurrence to add to the LWVUS position support for the “restoration of an annual, predictable federal payment to the District to compensate for revenues denied and expenses incurred because of the federal presence.”
In April 2000, the LWVUS Board agreed that the existing LWVUS position on DC voting rights also includes support for autonomy for the District in budgeting locally raised revenue and for eliminating the annual congressional DC appropriations budget-approval process. While such congressional review remains in force, the League continues to urge members of Congress to oppose appropriations bills that undermine the right of self-government of DC citizens, including restrictions on abortion funding.
In the 108th Congress, the League worked with DC Vote to develop legislation providing voting rights in Congress to DC residents. A hearing was held in spring 2004 to discuss four different legislative approaches to gaining representation in Congress. The LWVUS continues as a board member of the DC Vote Coalition.
In 2005, members of Congress took the DC voting rights issue on with more enthusiasm than had been seen in years. Under a new legislative plan, Utah would receive an additional fourth seat in Congress while congressional voting rights in the House of Representatives would be provided for American citizens living in Washington, DC. This balanced approach, developed by Rep. Tom Davis (R VA) and supported by the DC City Council and Mayor, would provide voting rights for District citizens without upsetting the partisan balance of the House.
As momentum for this plan increased, the League worked tirelessly to encourage members of Congress and the public to take action on DC voting rights.
In 2006, the League continued to work hard in support of the proposed plan; the League president traveled to Ohio to urge key Congressmen that their leadership was vital to the future of DC voting rights. While in Ohio, the president met with members, voters and the media to shed light on the DC voting rights issue.
At the same time, the LWVEF launched a DC Voting Rights Education project, aimed at building public awareness of the unique relationship between Congress and District of Columbia citizens, specifically their lack of full voting rights. As part of the project, selected Leagues throughout the country began work to educate voters and local leaders on the DC voting rights issue through summer 2007.
Despite the League’s hard work and progress in the 109th and 110th Congress toward passing DC voting rights legislation to provide House voting rights to District voters, success eluded supporters in 2010.
Statement of Position on DC Self-Government and Full Voting Representation, as Revised by National Board, March 1982 and June 2000:
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that citizens of the District of Columbia should be afforded the same rights of self-government and full voting representation in Congress as are all other citizens of the United States. The LWVUS supports restoration of an annual, predictable federal payment to the District to compensate for revenues denied and expenses incurred because of the federal presence.