The Hawaii Legislature has passed a resolution urging Congress to add a 28th amendment to the Constitution to provide full voting rights to residents of the District of Columbia. Until 1959, Hawaii faced the same lack of representation as DC as U.S. territory.
The Hawaii Resolution traces some of the progress that has been made in Washington, D.C., through the constitutional amendment process. It notes that "residents of the District of Columbia were granted the right to vote for the President and Vice President through passage of the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1961, which Hawaii was the first state to ratify." It also recognizes that "Congress passed a constitutional amendment in 1978 to grant full voting rights to District of Columbia residents and, although it was ratified by Hawaii and fifteen other states, the proposed amendment was ultimately unsuccessful, thus keeping the right to vote for congressional representation out of reach for District of Columbia residents."
Among the challenges created by a lack of representation, the Resolution highlights that "the lack of federal representation severely limits the ability of residents of the District of Columbia to influence legislation on matters directly affecting them, including health, gun control, budgeting, taxes, and governance." Looking to America's international commitments, the Resolution also explains that "the United States is a signatory to international treaties calling for countries to grant full voting rights to its adult citizens, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Organization of American States' American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination."
It concludes "that members of the 113th United States Congress are urged to enact federal legislation or propose a constitutional amendment granting full voting rights to residents of the District of Columbia."
A few observations.
For those whose reaction may be that amending the constitution is impossible, as the Resolution points out, DC voting rights advocates have already been successful in amending the constitution on one occasion, and they came close a second time. Indeed, since Hawaii became the last state, five amendments have been added to the Constitution, two of them (the 23rd and 24th) dealing with voting rights. So while the bar for amending the Constitution is higher than statehood -- 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the States vs. simple legislation signed by President -- it's not clear that this necessarily means statehood is easier to obtain than a constitutional amendment. Recent history actually shows the opposite.
What lessons should U.S. territories take away from this? On the one hand, the example of Hawaii certainly demonstrates that statehood is one option for resolving the voting rights issues in U.S territories. On the other hand, might the solution proposed for DC by the Hawaii Resolution, a constitutional amendment, be another alternative? For the smaller territories, this is potentially a very attractive option, since congressional skepticism towards statehood for DC because of its relatively small population would only be heightened for territories with populations less than 200,000. And even for Puerto Rico (or DC for that matter), representation via constitutional amendment could be an interim step on the path towards possible statehood.
Whatever the solution, the lack of federal representation for the 4.7 million Americans living in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia needs to be solved. Good on Hawaii for speaking out in support of this important civil rights issue.
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