Republicans have raised a lot of very stupid reasons to oppose statehood for Washington, D.C.—car dealerships, FFS—but that least stupid concern is that the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution gives the District of Columbia three electoral votes for president. The current plan for statehood shrinks the federal district to the area immediately around the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court, and National Mall—an area with very, very few residents. If the 23rd Amendment couldn’t be quickly repealed, the White House is embracing an idea first proposed by two Columbia Law School professors, Jessica Bulman-Pozen and Olatunde Johnson, to award those three electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.
That means that if a Republican could win the popular vote—admittedly something that has only happened once in the past eight presidential elections—those electoral votes would offset those from the newly created state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. It also means, though, that if a Democrat won the popular vote while narrowly losing the electoral vote, the result could be tipped in favor of the popular vote. In practice, it would probably get Republican-controlled states to move really fast to repeal the 23rd Amendment.
In proposing the idea last year, Bulman-Pozen and Johnson explained that the popular vote plan “would better accord with the text of the 23rd Amendment, which provides that this district ‘shall appoint’ electors ‘in such manner as Congress may direct.’ Although a congressional directive to appoint no electors, as H.R. 51 would currently have it, complies with the Constitution, a congressional directive to affirmatively appoint electors is a better fit with the text.”
Beyond that, they argued, “The fix we propose would be unlikely to influence an election, but it would introduce into American law—for the very first time—a truly national vote. With a revised H.R. 51, the moment of statehood could also be a broader moment of nationhood.”
But of course, Republicans don’t really care about the 23rd Amendment. They care about Republican electoral chances and Republican ability to govern through minority rule. Adding senators to represent an overwhelmingly Democratic area would get in the way of Republican minority rule in the Senate. Adding Electoral College votes contingent on the national popular vote would be more likely to weigh against them than for them. So they don’t want it, and they’re entirely happy to oppose full political participation for a number of people larger than that in either Vermont or Wyoming to keep the playing field tilted in their favor.
Statehood for Washington, D.C., has a steep hill to climb, given the filibuster as well as the opposition of Manchin and the silence of a few other key Democrats. But it is also a cause that has gained momentum in recent years, and its proponents are doing the right thing by continuing to build the case and solidify the legal arguments. When its political moment comes, every piece must and will be in place.