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Political and Administrative Implications of Proposed Statehood for D.C.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Stephen R. Rolandi
April 18, 2021

In recent weeks and months, a proposal to establish the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) as the nation’s 51st state has gained traction in the United States Congress. While this proposal is new, the idea of making the District a state originated over 50 years ago, as an alternative approach to self-determination or municipal home rule for the District’s residents.

Currently, persons residing in Washington, D.C. have non-voting representatives in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and cast 3 Electoral College votes in presidential elections, as per the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution of 1961; however, the District’s nearly 720,000 residents do not have direct Congressional representation, as do the citizens of the other 50 states of the Union.

As recently reported in The New York Times, some supporters of D.C. statehood seek to include the measure in the proposed S-1 legislation, which would expand voting rights and provide for other electoral reforms (this is distinct from the proposed H.R. 1 For the People Act, which passed the House on a 220-210 vote on March 3, 2021, and which has since been referred to the senate for its consideration).

Proposed statehood for D.C. has many supporters, including: Common Cause; The League of Women Voters; American Civil Liberties Union; former President Barack Obama; NAACP; NEA; conservative political analyst Bill Kristol and the D.C. Republican Party organization, among others.

Some background—the Constitution provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress, and therefore not a part of any U.S. state. Readers may remember that one of the “bundle of compromises” to get the Constitution approved was an agreement to have the new national capitol located in an area (south of the Mason-Dixon line) with land ceded from the states of Virginia and Maryland (note: in 1846, Congress returned land originally ceded from Virginia, including the City of Alexandria; in 1871, Congress formally created a single municipal government for the remaining portion of the District).

Assuming the proposal for D.C. statehood ultimately passes Congress, there would be several legal, political, governance and financial/administrative issues that would have to be addressed in its implementation:

  • Legal: To get around the cumbersome requirement of amending the 23rd Constitution, legislation introduced in Congress would create a new Federal District to be entitled the, “National Capitol Service Area,” which is a 2 mile radius of buildings including the White House; Capitol; Supreme Court and the National Mall. The remainder of the current District of Columbia would become its own state to be called, “Washington Douglas Commonwealth,” in honor of the 19th century civil rights activist and abolitionist Frederick Douglas (1818-1895).
  • Governance: The federal district (National Capitol Service Area) would retain its 3 electoral votes in the Electoral College, and presumably lose its non-voting status in Congress. Who would “govern” the federal district remains to be seen. The resulting Washington Douglass Commonwealth (WDC) would then become a sovereign state; have 2 elected Senators and one Member of the House of Representatives elected by the voters of WDC.

I assume that, temporarily, the number of House members would increase to 436, pending the final allocation of seats from the 2020 Census; the U.S. Senate would be permanently increased to a total of 102 members.

The chief elected official in Washington, D.C., presumably the current Mayor of Washington, D.C., would become the Governor of WDC with a separate legislature. In 2016, a draft constitution for the prospective new state was compiled, which would be the basic law governing the operations of the new state.  

  • Political: Assuming the Federal District retains its 3 votes in the Electoral College, the new State would have 3 Electoral College votes, thus increasing the size of the Electoral College to 541, with 271 Electoral College votes required to elect a President and Vice President. There has been some speculation as to how the Federal District’s 3 electoral votes would be cast—by how the residents of the 2 block radius district vote; allocated to the winner of the national popular vote; or some other formula. In a close national election, this new arrangement could be decisive.
  • Financial/Administrative: Funding state operations and programs for WDC would likely see financial changes in how the new state prepares its budget. For example, approximately 25 per cent of the current D.C. budget is funded by an allocation from Congress (approximately $ 4 billion)—how would the new state make up for a loss of revenue from Congress as a sovereign state?

Assuming that current D.C. government employees would then be classified as state employees, how would their pension system be set up and funded?

What would a state civil service and court system look like?

These and many other questions would have to be addressed in the event that statehood became a reality.  

 As with many other things, time will tell if the District ultimately becomes a state and how successful implementation of statehood fares.  


Author: Stephen R. Rolandi “retired” in 2015 after serving with the State and City of New York. He holds BA and MPA degrees from New York University, and studied law at Brooklyn Law School. He teaches public finance and management as an Adjunct Professor of Public Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY) and Pace University. Professor Rolandi is a Trustee of NECoPA; President-emeritus of ASPA’s New York Metropolitan Chapter and was Senior National Council Representative. He has also served on many other association boards in New York City, Westchester County (New York State) and Washington, DC. You can reach him at: [email protected] or [email protected] or at 914.536.5942.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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