Equally American: Amending the Constitution to Provide Voting Rights in U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia

35 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2017

Date Written: February 2, 2017

Abstract

Today, nearly five million Americans — 94% of whom are racial or ethnic minorities — are denied full enjoyment of the right to vote simply because they live in a U.S. territory or the District of Columbia. The current constitutional status of Americans who live in the District and U.S. territories strains against the Founders’ vision that ours would be a government that derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.

In 1801, Augustus Woodward, a protégé of Thomas Jefferson, proposed a constitutional amendment to provide Americans residing in the Nation’s Capital the right to vote for President, one Senator, and a number of Representatives in proportion to its growing population. He recognized that the denial of representation in the “territory of Columbia” was “contrary to the genius of our constitution” and “violat[es] an original principal of republicanism, to deny that that all who are governed by laws ought to participate in the formation of them.”

In 1961, the first piece of Woodward’s vision was realized with the passage of the Twenty-Third Amendment. More than half a century later, it is time to realize the remainder of Woodward’s dream that all Americans, no matter where they live, would be “entitled to the enjoyment of the same rights with the rest of the people of the United States, and to have some participation in the administration of their general government.” This can be achieved through an amendment to the Constitution that would provide meaningful representation in the national government to Americans living in non-state areas like the District and U.S. territories.

Even as the sons and daughters of Americans living in the District and U.S. territories serve in the Armed Forces in record numbers to defend democracy abroad, they are denied meaningful participation in democracy at home. The District has waited more than 200 years for its residents to be treated as equal Americans. The political status of overseas U.S. territories has been in limbo for over 115 years. It is well past time to end this historic injustice and bring equality to all Americans, no matter where they live.

Keywords: Right to Vote, Voting, Voting Rights, Amendment, Territories, Insular, U.S. Territories, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, District of Columbia, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa

Suggested Citation

Weare, Neil, Equally American: Amending the Constitution to Provide Voting Rights in U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia (February 2, 2017). Stetson Law Review, Vol. 46 (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2910745

Neil Weare (Contact Author)

We the People Project ( email )

1666 Connecticut Ave, NW Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.equalrightsnow.org

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