WBA Issue Statement on Suffrage for the District of Columbia

The WBA grew out of the women’s suffrage movement in the early twentieth century and, in fact, was founded three years before women obtained the right to vote. Supporting the right to vote for all residents of the District of Columbia (D.C.) is an integral aspect of the WBA’s mission today, as it has been for over 100 years. Over 693,000 people live in the District (based on the Census Department’s 2017 estimates) – more than the population of Vermont (623,657) or Wyoming (579,315)1. Yet those 693,000 residents do not have a single voting representative in either the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives. Even though they have no say on federal policy initiatives or on the confirmation of judges or executive branch officials, D.C. residents pay federal income taxes and are subject to federal laws like all other (represented) Americans. 

Even before women secured the right to vote nationally with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, the WBA, in 1917, supported a Joint Resolution of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would have given D.C. residents the right to vote. Decades later, the WBA endorsed a 1936 joint resolution that proposed a constitutional amendment to grant D.C. representation in the Senate, House, and Electoral College and provide the District’s citizens the same rights before courts as state residents enjoyed. Further, in 1946, the WBA supported a referendum on suffrage for D.C. residents. Through the 1950s, the WBA continued to voice public support for the D.C. Home Rule Act and D.C. suffrage.

In 1961, the Twenty-Third Amendment was ratified, and residents of the District were finally given a say in presidential elections. In 1973, with the passage of the Home Rule Act, D.C. residents won limited self-governance through a local executive (the mayor) and legislative branch (the D.C. Council)2. However, Congressional representation remained out of reach. More than 40 years later, in 2016, D.C. residents voted overwhelmingly to support a proposal to petition Congress to make D.C. the fifty-first state3. As D.C. continues its fight for democratic representation within our country’s most fundamental government
institutions, the WBA continues to support this effort. Ensuring that D.C. residents are allowed to elect voting representatives to Congress is an important part of the WBA’s mission. The WBA will continue to assist in the fight for suffrage for D.C. residents until the ideals of democracy prevail.
 
1 Quick Facts, “Population Estimates, July 1, 2017,” U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/WY,VT,DC/PST045217.
2 Kate Masur, Capital Injustice, The New York Times, (March 28, 2011), www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/opinion/29masur.html
3 See Aaron C. Davis, “District Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Referendum to Make D.C. the 51st State,” Washington Post, (Nov. 8, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/district-voters-overwhelmingly-approve-referendum-to-make-dc-the-51st-state/2016/11/08/ff2ca5fe-a213-11e6-8d63-3e0a660f1f04_story.html?utm_term=.9fd46b7c27f4