Statehood is on the Ballot

If turnout so far is any indication, there’s strong interest in the election here in the District of Columbia. When early voting ended on Friday, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics reported that more than 101,000 D.C. residents had voted, a 77% increase from early voting in the 2012 presidential election.

This is good news for D.C. democracy. It’s also good news for an important question on the ballot—the advisory referendum on statehood for the new state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. Specifically, the ballot asks voters “whether the Council should petition Congress to enact a statehood admission act to admit” the District as the 51st state in the union.

As the District votes, it’s a good idea to keep in mind what the referendum means, and what’s really at stake.

It’s true that the referendum is advisory. It’s also true that regardless of what D.C. voters and their elected officials decide, it’s ultimately Congress’s decision whether the District is granted statehood

But with high turnout, and approval by a large margin, the referendum will make it clearer than ever that D.C. residents are serious about statehood. And having a strong, decisive expression of the people’s call for statehood will give a boost to D.C. officials and advocates as they work toward winning congressional support.

While the heart of the referendum is the question of statehood, it also asks voters whether they accept the prerequisites for statehood—new boundaries, an elected representative form of government, and a new state constitution.

The process for developing the constitution has gotten a lot of attention over the past few months. DC Appleseed was part of the legal advisory team that the D.C. Statehood Commission consulted during this process—including Executive Director Walter Smith and board members Jon Bouker, a partner at the Arent Fox law firm, and Shelley Broderick, Dean of the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. The process was much quicker and less formal than it was the first time the District adopted a proposed constitution in 1982. But the proposed constitution appropriately calls for constitutional convention of elected delegates two years after the District is granted statehood—similar to the process used more than 30 years ago.

This means that the District can focus its energy on what’s most important right now: demonstrating broad voter support for statehood and committing to a sustained, national campaign to build the necessary support in Congress. Statehood may not pass in the next Congress or even the one after that. But it all begins with making sure that the referendum is a resounding success today.

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