Residents ‘Cut Out’ Of DC Statehood Process To Vote On Its Fate

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Residents in the District will vote on a draft constitution making Washington, D.C., the 51st state Tuesday that critics say was written by unelected bureaucrats behind closed doors.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is making her final plea to residents to vote for the draft constitution on the ballot election day, to ensure city official’s hopes for statehood remain alive. Longtime residential activists for statehood are sharply critical of the D.C. Council and Bowser for determining specifics of the proposed state constitution behind closed doors through the five-member New Columbia Statehood Commission. The referendum is expected to pass without issue, but many roadblocks remain for city leaders, reports FOX5.

Despite holding a “constitutional convention” in June, residents criticized the commission’s structure and transparency. Critics charge the convention was an empty effort to make the process seem democratic, while the core decisions were made by the unelected commission. (RELATED: DC Council Powers Toward Statehood, Frustrated Voters Left Behind)

“I’m not going to support it, because I don’t know what I’ll be voting for,” Ann Loikow, with the activist group DC Statehood Yes We Can, told The Washington Post in July. “This whole process is a sham. They’re not offering us democracy – they’re offering us autocracy, and they’re the autocrats that are going to keep running it.”

Many other voters in the District feel the same, and advocate that an elected delegation, not the New Columbia Statehood Commission, decide on the final constitution following the ballot vote Tuesday. There were no elected delegates representing community interests at the convention in June, and the New Columbia Statehood Commission, chaired by Bowser, had final say on what the document included. Residents have no real power to make their requests binding.

“To be painfully honest, there are people who have worked on this issue for 20-plus years and felt like they were cut out of the process,” D.C. Shadow Senator Michael Brown said in October. “And they have a right to feel that way.”

The Council declined to take a final vote on the language in the draft in July, and said they will only vote on the language if the ballot referendum passes in Tuesday. This means it could change after voters approve it.

The constitution would establish a 21-seat state legislature, a change from the original draft that would have simply elevated the 13-seat D.C. Council to the state’s legislative body. The numbers are also contentious for statehood advocates who feel a 21-seat legislature is far too small for a state governing body.

Bowser argues the seemingly rushed nature of the statehood process is due to the uphill battle needed to win the victory. Advocates are banking on the presidential election to bring national attention to the District’s lack of voting rights.

Even if the voters approve the ballot and city officials move forward with the statehood process it will still face final approval requirements from the House of Representatives. If the District became the 51st state, Democrats would likely gain two extra seats in the Senate, which Republicans in Congress are not likely to allow.

Bowser argues residents must vote yes and be prepared for changes in congress after the election.

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