“Help Us, China!” and Other Plans for D.C. Voting Rights
Positive tweets from Cory Booker aside, the District's attempts to get a vote in Congress hasn't had the clearest path lately. Nevertheless, law scholars, politicians, lawyers, and judges came together Friday to discuss various strategies for turning the District's delegate into a representative at an event sponsored by the William and Mary Election Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Some were optimistic that activists could secure voting rights for everyone, while others saw the movement as a waste of time. Here are three possible courses of action for the District that came out of the event:
Amend the constitution: A constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for all U.S. citizens would extend voting rights not just to D.C. residents but also to ex-felons and citizens of U.S. territories.
Enlist Foreign Allies: Even panelists who argued in favor of a constitutional amendment noted the difficulty in making the issue a priority for Congress. One audience member asked the panel if international pressure could help spur Congress into action: “What if the government of China were encouraged to raise this issue as a human rights violation every time the U.S. raise human rights violations with them?”
While former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis said that bringing pressure from the outside world could help the movement, fellow panelist Robert Bauer, the Democratic National Committee's general counsel, was skeptical that getting caught up in a geopolitical conflict would benefit the District in any way.
Give Up: Given the many obstacles to securing voting rights for D.C. residents, some panelists suggested shifting the focus of the movement. According to George Washington University Law professor David Fontana, trying to win enough Congressional and national support for a constitutional amendment is a waste of scarce resources. Instead, the District should redirect its efforts toward trying to gain the authority to impose a commuter tax on nonresidents employed in the District.
“I lived in D.C., and I would love to be represented in Congress,” Fontana said. “But I’d also like to have a unicorn in my backyard that I could go and play with when I get back from class.”