Voting Rights for Residents of Washington, D.C.

Kate Masur, history professor at Northwestern, has a nice op-ed in the New York Times explaining the history of voting rights in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital.

The best part of the piece is the conclusion where she explains why we haven’t rectified this great injustice:

And yet, in our polarized political climate, the powerful argument for voting representation in Congress seems perpetually stymied.

One problem is indifference; most Americans are unaware of the capital’s anomalous status, the city’s “Taxation Without Representation” license plates notwithstanding. A second is partisanship; to establish a vote in Congress for Washingtonians, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, Republicans would have to place a moral imperative ahead of partisan interests.

Another is race. A half-century after the dawn of the civil rights era, many Americans still have a hard time seeing African-Americans as citizens entitled to the rights that so many white people take for granted. For residents of a place once known as “Chocolate City,” these attitudes are a sadly familiar obstacle to equality.

The civil and human rights community has been pushing for legislation to enfranchise District residents for years.  In 2009, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of our sister organization, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, testified before a House subcommittee about why the issue remains a top priority for the movement:

[O]ne thing remains painfully clear: the right to vote is meaningless if you cannot put anyone into office. Until DC residents have a vote in Congress, they will not be much better off than African Americans in the South were prior to August 6, 1965, when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law – and until then, the efforts of the civil rights movement will remain incomplete.