Washington DC is the capital city of the United States and is under the total jurisdiction of the United States Congress. As the District of Columbia, it is a federal district rather than a state, and has different governmental rules than either the 50 states in the nation, and US-governed territories such as Guam. A vocal group of people believe that citizens who live there are not treated as being equal to state citizens, as their rights and representation in Congress are different. It has no governor or senators, and its representative has no vote in the House.
The District of Columbia is really considered a city, rather than a state. As such, it has a mayor rather than a governor. Originally, the city was run by federally-appointed overseers, with the first group appointed by President George Washington in 1790. In 1973, the United States passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which created mayoral elections and gave some power over local issues to the mayor and city council. The United States Congress still retains ultimate authority over the District, and can still overturn any mayoral or council decisions.
While Washington DC does not have any senators, it does have a non-voting member of the House of Representatives. Like Puerto Rico and Guam representatives, this elected official can sit on committees, lobby for or introduce legislature, and join floor debates, but he or she cannot vote. Despite their lack of representation in Congress, citizens of the District are subject to all federal laws. This leads many to question the position of DC citizens, as other US territories are not subject to law without representation.
Voting rights for Washington DC citizens are different than those for states. Until the Twenty-Third Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in 1961, DC residents could not vote in any federal election, including for presidency. While the law made an exemption for presidential elections, people who live in the District still cannot vote in most federal elections. The justification for the voting laws is complicated, but experts suggest that it is essential that the seat of federal government remain neutral, lest partisan politics become an even larger problem.
Many people feel that DC citizens should be afforded the same voting rights as any US citizen, including being able to send voting delegates to Congress. Some argue that the District should become a separate state, while others believe it should be integrated into Virginia or Maryland. Toward the efforts of DC statehood, the city has elected two “shadow” senators and a representative since 1978. These officials are meant to lobby for statehood but are not recognized by Congress and should not be confused with the non-voting representative.
The election and voting process in Washington DC is a confusing and complicated situation that many feel is to the detriment of the city. Some argue that the little power granted to the mayor, council, and non-voting representative are not enough to ensure the safety or well-being of the area. As Congress seems to be avoiding the issue of DC statehood, it is uncertain whether permanent residents of the District will ever be granted rights comparable to other US citizens.