This blog was written by Anne Anderson, Chair, LWVDC Committee for Full Rights for D.C. Citizens.
In all 50 states, the League of Women Voters is working hard to get fair maps drawn through a transparent and non-partisan redistricting process. Each state is navigating its own dynamics to combat power politics and incessant gerrymandering— the manipulation of the redistricting process which causes voter suppression.
Voter suppression is a tactic used by those in political power to control who can or cannot have a voice in our democracy. It shows up in many ways – from roll purges to voter ID laws – and creates lasting, systemic barriers to voting.
In Washington, D.C., we will be paying close attention to how our legislators redraw the boundaries of our eight wards, insisting on fairness, transparency, and opportunities for members of the public to offer input. While vulnerable to gerrymandering and political manipulation, the redistricting process provides a crucial opportunity for communities to make their voices heard and protect their needs.
For D.C., however, fighting to have our voices heard extends beyond redistricting and the fair representation of our eight wards. Fighting for fair representation also means we are working to secure D.C. Statehood. Since 1801, the District of Columbia and its residents have been denied statehood, meaning that despite having a population size greater than Vermont or Wyoming, we do not have representation in Congress.
Like other voter suppression tactics, discrimination has played a major role in the disenfranchisement of D.C. residents. In their 2017 book, "Chocolate City," authors Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove discuss how members of Congress and white D.C. residents worried over the growing power of Black residents in the newly formed territorial government in 1871. Many formerly enslaved persons and Black Union soldiers had migrated to D.C. and begun to exercise their political rights.
The growth in politically organized Black citizens led Congress to dissolve the territorial government. In its place, they instituted a three-commissioner system that was charged with running D.C.'s local affairs with little to no input from residents. The Commission answered exclusively to Congress. This dictatorial arrangement lasted for nearly 100 years, until 1967, when President Johnson appointed Walter Washington as D.C.’s first Mayor-Commissioner.
D.C's lack of statehood has real implications on its residents’ wellbeing. For instance, in the CARES Act, Congress shortchanged D.C. $750 million in COVID-19 relief funds. This is because D.C. was treated as a territory rather than a state, which meant D.C. received a smaller share of the block grant even though its residents pay federal income taxes.
The fight to end gerrymandering and obtain D.C. Statehood are about both the full enfranchisement of voters and advancing racial justice. We recently celebrated the passage of the For the People Act (H.R.1) in the House and are excited to build on this momentum of advancing critical voting rights work.
Key bills are in Congress right now that will protect and expand voting rights. Among them is H.R.51, the Washington D.C. Admission Act. Watch the hearing and contact your Representative and Senators and ask them to support full rights for D.C. citizens by voting in favor of this legislation. You can also promote the For the People Act in the Senate to ensure the expansion of voting rights.
Now is the time to make sure voters' voices are heard.