This vote was on an amendment by Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that would cede most of Washington, D.C., to Maryland; the grounds of the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and federal office buildings would be excepted. The amendment was offered to a bill that would give the District of Columbia voting rights in the House, and Utah an extra seat in the House.
Washington, D.C. currently has a “delegate” in the House, but she does not have full voting privileges – for instance, she can vote in committees, but not on the House floor. There is no D.C. senator. This is because D.C. is a district, not a state, and the Constitution only grants full representation in the U.S. Congress to states. The District of Columbia and other U.S. territories such as Guam, Samoa and Puerto Rico have delegates to the House who do not have full voting privileges.
The city of Washington, D.C. – whose license plates read “no taxation without representation” – has long sought full voting rights in Congress. But this has been a contentious and partisan topic, because giving voting rights to D.C. would, in essence, be giving Democrats an extra seat in the House. This is because the District’s majority black population votes overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively giving the Democrats a safe seat. Republicans have also argued that allowing Washington, D.C. full voting representation would violate the Constitution, which states that full voting rights are only for states. Technically Washington, D.C. is a federal district and is treated in much the same manner as U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam.
Kyl said it is unconstitutional for the District to have full voting representation, but he agreed that the people living inside its bounds should be represented.
“The only other way to do that, for those of us who believe it is unconstitutional to pass the legislation pending before us … this is the only other way to achieve the objective. It is presented in good faith,” Kyl said. He added that his amendment would not be effective unless the state of Maryland passed their own law stating that they would accept Washington, D.C. into the state.
Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the amendment won’t fix the problem because Maryland’s leaders have already indicated that the state will not support such an action.
“So it may be a solution on paper, but it is not going to be a solution and a fix to the problem in fact. It is also full of complications that would ensue,” such as tangled legal and law enforcement jurisdictions. It also would require a constitutional amendment to repeal the amendment that granted Washington, D.C. three electoral votes in presidential elections.
“As I have said, this is an alternative solution to the problem. I appreciate it in that it would, if it overcame the obstacles, actually be a remedy, but it is not the right or realistic remedy to the injustice of nonvoting representation in Congress for residents of the District,” Lieberman said.
By a vote of 30-67, the Senate rejected the amendment. Every Democrat present but one voted against the amendment. Of Republicans present, 29 voted for the amendment and 11 voted against it. The end result is that the Senate rejected an amendment that would have given residents of Washington, D.C. full voting rights in the House and Senate by ceding most of the city to Maryland.