In 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 51, a bill crafted in order to admit the District of Columbia as the 51st state in the union. However, the bill did not advance to the U.S. Senate, where the deliberative body lacked the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster on the bill. Lacking Republican support, there is a notable lack of bipartisanship in the movement for D.C. Statehood, which indicates that this bill’s political motivations may not be in the right place. On the other hand, there are compelling reasons for this bill as Washington, D.C. has evolved significantly since the Constitution was originally adopted in 1788; a city once characterized as a transient space for government business is now a major economic and cultural center of the U.S. Yet, the nearly 700,000 residents of D.C. do not have voting representation in Congress. D.C. should not be immediately admitted as a state because it sets a dangerous, politically divisive, precedent; however, a compromise should be made to grant D.C. citizens voting representation by ceding the residential areas of D.C. into Maryland.
The U.S. is currently experiencing its most polarized political atmosphere since the Civil War. In fact, a 2017 Pew Research poll found that approximately 80% of Americans look at the other side of the aisle in an unfavorable light, and the portion feeling very unfavorable has nearly tripled since 1994. As a result, admitting a 51st state will inevitably be perceived as a power-grab by the Democratic Party rather than a real concern for the representation of D.C.
D.C. statehood would also contribute to this polarization and thus further destabilize our political system. According to Politico 2020 election data, a staggering 93% of D.C. residents voted for Joe Biden, while just 5.4% voted for Trump. This makes D.C. the most Democratic jurisdiction in the entire U.S.. The attempt to grant D.C. two Senators and a voting representative in the House grants a Democratic advantage in both bodies, adding to Democrats’ slim 50-50 majority in the Senate, and to their unreliable hold on the House. Therefore, granting D.C. immediate statehood puts our government in a position in which Democrats have less of a need to compromise with Republicans or moderate Democrats. Lack of compromise lowers the quality of legislation, and thus D.C. statehood hurts the entire U.S. Further, due to corrupt misinformation campaigns regarding the 2020 election, one-third of U.S. citizens have lost faith in our election systems according to a Rutgers poll. A move to immediately incorporate D.C. as a state would further diminish public confidence in our electoral system.
While D.C. statehood should not be considered, the residents of D.C. absolutely deserve real representation in our political process. Washington, D.C. is an integral part of the United States; it possesses a population larger than Wyoming and Vermont, and D.C. vehicles even sport a license plate that reads “End Taxation Without Representation.” This, of course, is a valid mantra that should remind U.S. citizens of one of the key reasons our union strove for independence in the first place. In order to uphold our democratic values, D.C. residents must be incorporated into our federal election system. The best way to do this would be to cede residential spaces of the District to Maryland while the National Mall, federal agencies, and other monuments would remain federal land. By doing this, D.C. voters would vote as Maryland citizens for state and national elections, and likely add a House seat for the state of Maryland as well. There is historical precedent for this plan. In 1848, parts of Virginia that were originally ceded to D.C. for the formation of the capital were retroceded back to Virginia. Such a compromise avoids the political divisiveness of adding two Senate seats.
In all, D.C. residents deserve voting representation in the U.S. Congress. However, that representation should be delivered in such a way as to avoid increasing the severe political divisions which already exist in our country. Our government needs to prioritize reducing polarization and restoring trust in state legitimacy before significantly changing the system. Therefore, retroceding D.C. land back to Maryland, or another such compromise, is the most sensible course of action.