Will Washington, D.C., become the 51st state?

More than three-quarters of District of Columbia-area voters backed a statehood ballot initiative Tuesday. But will it happen any time soon?

Susan Walsh/AP
In this photo taken in early November, signs supporting DC statehood are on display outside an early voting place in Washington, D.C. District voters will decide whether they want the nation's capital to become its 51st state.

As the country cheered – or stewed over – presidential election results, some residents of the nation’s capitol saw the fruits of a victory uniquely their own.

A majority of District of Columbia voters voted "yes" on a referendum that would put a petition before Congress to make the District into the nation’s 51st state, with a separate federal district in the middle for federal government buildings.

Proponents of the statehood ballot measure say that while they do not expect statehood during this session of Congress, the results of Tuesday’s vote were even better than expected and bode well for the future.

“We have to keep on keeping on,” says New Columbia Vision project director Elinor Hart. “Every session of Congress, we get more supporters than ever before. I don’t think we’ll become a state this session, so we’ll just keep pushing.”

“I’m feeling great. There’s no question that this is what we want,” Ms. Hart tells The Christian Science Monitor by phone.

While many United States citizens may not be certain as to the exact legal standing of their fellow citizens in the nation’s capital, Hart says that many just assume that District of Columbia residents have the same rights as the residents of a state. But that isn’t the case, she says.

“If we were a state, we would have a voice on national issues. We would feel like first-class citizens.”

Should the District of Columbia become a state, it would gain voting representatives in Congress. Although Washington, D.C., currently does have electoral votes in nationwide elections, such as Tuesday’s presidential election, it does not enjoy representation in Congress.

“You may be a U.S. citizen, pay federal taxes, even serve in the military. But if you live in the nation's capital, as far as Congress is concerned, you might as well not exist,” wrote Randy James for Time in 2009.

The District of Columbia was initially created in the 18th century after it became apparent that situating the capital city in a state, like the previous capital, Philadelphia, had a number of drawbacks.

While moving the nation’s capital to the District of Columbia solved some problems, it created others, some of which remain. District residents were not able to vote in federal elections until the 23rd Amendment was ratified in 1963, and many still say they are underrepresented in a political system that many work to support in their daily lives.

By the 1970s, D.C. residents took another step, pushing a Constitutional amendment in 1978 that would have given residents a representative in Congress, but was supported by only 16 states in the union. Again in 1980, D.C. voters approved plans for a state called New Columbia, which also failed, reported Time.com.

That first wave of statehood attempts came to a screeching halt in the 1990s, Hart says, when the city near went broke, just as campaigns were beginning to gain ground. 

In this latest statehood push, three of the four major political parties with a candidate running in the presidential election had D.C. statehood written into their party platforms, Hart says. The Democratic Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Green Party all were largely in favor of statehood. 

The Republican Party has opposed the statehood move because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the District by a margin of more than 2 to 1, The Washington Post reports, noting that "if it were allowed to become a state, the District would probably elect two Democratic senators and a Democratic member of the House, improving odds for Democratic control of both chambers for decades to come."

President-elect Donald Trump told NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2015 that he was in favor of doing "whatever was best" for the people of the capital. Hart says that she does not anticipate substantial opposition from the rest of the country.

For now, though, things are looking up for D.C. Seventy-nine percent of DC residents voted to petition Congress to become New Columbia, far more than Hart expected. The next step is up to Congress and the president-elect.

“When we started our advocacy in 2009, people thought that we were a little weird,” she tells the Monitor. “I think we’ve lost that reputation of weirdness.”

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