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D.C. is a Travesty of Democracy

If any other country tried to adopt these same rules for their capital today we would likely hit them with immediate sanctions

It is both disturbing and deeply ironic how the supposed capital of the free world, Washington D.C., doesn’t have access to basic democratic freedoms. From the rules that govern voting rights to how the local elections are run, the district is a perfect example of what should never be allowed.

The problems begin with the disenfranchisement of the roughly 650,000 citizens who live in the district. Even though the country was supposedly founded on the principle of “no taxation without representation” the taxpaying Americans in D.C. have no vote for the House or the Senate. Federal policy is made without their input. To really add salt to the wound, if someone from Florida moved to France they could still vote for Congress but if they move to D.C. they lose this right.

If that was not bad enough Congress also has complete control of D.C. local laws, despite the residents having no vote for Congress. The local government effectively must ask Congress its permission for every law they want to pass. This has allowed politicians outside D.C. to force on its residents local laws they oppose on issues from guns to drug policy. The people of the District have been denied basic democracy, and if any other country tried to adopt these same rules for their capital today we would likely hit them with immediate sanctions.

Finally, the way D.C. selects its local officials with their limited powers is simply horrible. Since the district is heavily Democratic, the low turnout closed primary taking place tomorrow almost always effectively decides the race. This means anyone who isn’t a registered Democrat has zero say in how the city is run. There is also the added problem of D.C. not having any form of instant run-off or run-off elections despite often having very crowded Democratic primaries.

Among the roughly 75 percent of D.C. voters who are registered Democrats, only about 40 percent of them will turn out tomorrow and because of the crowded field the winning candidate will probably get only about 35 percent of this vote. In a region of over 650,000 people the next executive will likely win with only around 40,000 votes.

D.C. needs statehood and for its stupid election system to be changed. The partisan primary should be eliminated completely, or at least made open. Lack of real democracy in our capital and the poor design of the election system to determine the scraps of faux-democracy Congress lets the people of district pretend they have should be a national scandal.

Photo by Hallie under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at