When we vote in the 2016 election, all DC residents will mark our ballots for U.S. president, at-large Council member (choose two!) ANC commissioner, delegate and shadow representative to the U.S. House, and at-large DC State Board of Education member. Those of us who live in Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8 will elect Council and State Board of Education members specifically representing those Wards.
And finally, we’ll be asked to vote on an advisory referendum on DC statehood.
What’s that? Glad you asked. David Jonas Bardin has answers to this and many other questions:
Q. Why is this advisory referendum on our ballot this year?
A. Mayor Bowser presented A Bold Path to Statehood during the DC Emancipation Day Breakfast in April – part of which called for a referendum on the General Election ballot. In July, the DC Council unanimously asked the Board of Elections to put this advisory referendum on the ballot, which it did.
What is an advisory referendum?
An advisory referendum is a public opinion poll conducted via an election ballot.
What does our ballot ask us?
We are asked to vote YES or NO to the following:
ADVISORY REFERENDUM B
“Advisory Referendum on the State of New Columbia Admission Act Resolution of 2016”
To ask the voters on November 8, 2016, through an advisory referendum, whether the Council should petition Congress to enact a statehood admission act to admit theState of New Columbia to the Union. Advising the Council to approve this proposal would establish that the citizens of the District of Columbia (“District”):
(1) agree that the District should be admitted to the Union as the State of New Columbia;
(2) approve of a Constitution of the State of New Columbia to be adopted by the Council;
(3) approve the State of New Columbia’s boundaries, as adopted by the New Columbia Statehood Commission on June 28, 2016; and
(4) agree that the State of New Columbia shall guarantee an elected representative form of government.
Shall the voters of the District of Columbia advise the Council to approve or reject this proposal?
YES, to approve ____
NO, to reject ____
What will be the moral effect of our votes?
Immense. DC voters have not expressed themselves for 34 years about statehood. Are we, the governed, content with our present status or do we want it changed?
What would my YES or NO vote signify?
You will express your opinion about your right as an American to self-government, including representation in our national legislature and in our own state legislature. Congress is both our national and our state legislature now. We don’t get to vote for any U.S. Senator or any U.S. Representative. (We only elect a non-voting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, like Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.)
— YES would signify wanting full rights of self-government, like Americans in the 50 states.
— NO would signify satisfaction with less.
Is it normal for a democracy to deny citizens of its capital city equal rights to vote for representatives in the national legislature?
No. Our country is unique in this denial of civil rights.
Don’t we elect our Council and mayor, like citizens in states elect their legislature and governor?
No. In all 50 states, citizens elect their own state legislature and governor without the possibility of federal interference. In DC, Congress allows us elect a city council and mayor (for now). They are subordinate to Congress’s exercise of state legislature powers – powers Congress does not have in the 50 states. And Congress could abolish them, as it abolished DC’s territorial governor and legislature in the late 19th century.
Would it require a constitutional amendment to admit us as a 51st state?
No. The U.S. Constitution provides for admission of new states only by ordinary Act of Congress, passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president. That’s how each of 37 states got added to the first 13. No state has ever been admitted by amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Will our YES or NO votes have a direct legal effect?
Our votes will merely advise the DC Council whether to petition Congress to enact a statehood admission act. (Even if every registered voter votes YES, those votes won’t require the DC Council to petition Congress.)
Would a YES vote ratify any particular proposed constitution text for our new state?
No, an advisory referendum does not put a specific text before us for ratification.
What does the DC Council’s current constitutional approach include?
Our state would have (1) a unicameral legislature, consisting of 21 elected representatives, exercising state and city responsibilities without Congressional interference; (2) a governor, exercising gubernatorial and mayoral responsibilities; (3) an elected, independent attorney general, exercising prosecutorial responsibility for DC-law felonies (rather than having the U.S. Attorney responsible for both DC-law and national-law prosecutions); (4) an appointed, independent chief financial officer; and (5) independent judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state legislature (rather than appointed by the President if confirmed by the U.S. Senate).
Would a YES vote determine exact boundaries for our state, especially “inner boundaries” between the state and a remaining federal enclave which includes the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court?
No. Ultimately, boundaries must be negotiated with Congress.
Would a YES vote decide on a particular name for our new state?
No. Although the Advisory Referendum refers to “State of New Columbia,” the DC Council voted unanimously on October 18 to change that to “State of Washington, D.C.” in its proposed draft state constitution. The DC Council could change the proposed name again next year. We are voting about basic civil rights concepts.
Where can I find more information?
At statehoodYES.com you will find advocacy.
Can I still register to vote?
Registration in DC continues through Election Day. See the Board of Elections web site, dcboee.org.
When does early voting begin?
Early voting has already begun downtown at the Old Council Chambers, 441 4th Street NW (Judiciary Square). Eight satellite sites open October 28 and voters from any ward can cast their votes at any of theses sites through November 4. Find more information at dcboee.org/ev.