Home Issues D.C. Council Actions Statehood What's the Advisory Referendum on Our Ballot? by David Jonas Bardin
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What's the Advisory Referendum on Our Ballot? by David Jonas Bardin E-mail


by David Jonas Bardin

October 2016

This year, our election ballot includes an advisory referendum about statehood.

Q. Why is this advisory referendum on our ballot this year?

A. Mayor Bowser presented A Bold Path to Statehood during the DC Emancipation Day Breakfast in April – part of which called for a referendum on the General Election ballot. In July, the DC Council unanimously asked the Board of Elections to put this advisory referendum on the ballot, which it did.

Q. What is an advisory referendum?

A. An advisory referendum is a public opinion poll conducted via an election ballot.

Q. What does our ballot ask us?

A. We are asked to vote YES or NO to the following:



“Advisory Referendum on the State of New Columbia Admission Act Resolution of 2016”


To ask the voters on November 8, 2016, through an advisory referendum, whether the Council should petition Congress to enact a statehood admission act to admit the State of New Columbia to the Union. Advising the Council to approve this proposal would establish that the citizens of the District of Columbia (“District”):

(1) agree that the District should be admitted to the Union as the State of New Columbia;

(2) approve of a Constitution of the State of New Columbia to be adopted by the Council;

(3) approve the State of New Columbia’s boundaries, as adopted by the New Columbia Statehood Commission on June 28, 2016; and

(4) agree that the State of New Columbia shall guarantee an elected representative form of government.

Shall the voters of the District of Columbia advise the Council to approve or reject this proposal?

YES, to approve ____

NO, to reject ____

Q. What will be the moral effect of our votes?

A. Immense. DC voters have not expressed themselves for 34 years about statehood. Are we, the governed, content with our present status or do we want it changed?

Q. What would my YES or NO vote signify?

A. You will express your opinion about your right as an American to self government including representation in our national legislature and in our own state legislature: Congress is both our national and our state legislature now. We don't get to vote for any U.S. Senator or any U.S. Representative. (We only elect a non-voting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, like Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.)

-- YES would signify wanting full rights of self government, like Americans in the 50 states.

-- NO would signify satisfaction with less.

Q. Is it normal for a democracy to deny citizens of its capital city equal rights to vote for representatives in the national legislature?

A. No. Our country is unique in this denial of civil rights.

Q. Are American citizens in the 50 states denied civil rights of voting for their own state government?

A. No, of course not. In all 50 states, citizens elect their own state legislature and governor as well as local governments. Congress may not interfere. In D.C., Congress lets us elect a local home rule government (for now) which is subordinate to Congress's exercise of state legislature powers -- powers Congress does not have in the 50 states. This is a temporary delegation of authority. Congress could revoke it at any time. (Congress did so in 1874 - for 99 years.)

Q. Would it require a constitutional amendment to admit us as a 51st state?

A. No. The U.S. Constitution provides for admission of new states only by ordinary Act of Congress, passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. That's how each of 37 states got added to the first 13. No state has ever been admitted by amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Q. Will our YES or NO votes have a direct legal effect?

A. Our votes will merely advise the DC Council whether to petition Congress to enact a statehood admission act. (Even if every registered voter votes YES, those votes won't require the DC Council to petition Congress.)

Q. Would a YES vote ratify any particular proposed constitution text for our new state?

A. No, an advisory referendum does not put a specific text before us for ratification. This Advisory Referendum does refer to a process by which the DC Council adopts a proposed constitution. Most recently, on October 18, the DC Council voted to amend and approve such a specific constitution after holding public hearings on September 27 and October 6.

The DC Council could change the constitutional text again next year. So could Congress.

The statehood admission act could provide for a ratification referendum.

The DC Council decided on October 18, 2016 that it will transmit its proposed constitution and boundaries to Congress if the Board of Elections certifies more YES votes than NOs. (Transmittal would facilitate a change of boundaries in Delegate Norton's statehood bill next year, but it would not petition Congress.)

Q. What does the DC Council's current constitutional approach include?

A. Our state would have (1) a unicameral legislature, consisting of 21 elected representatives, exercising state and city legislative responsibilities without Congressional interference; (2) a governor, exercising state and city executive responsibilities; (3) an elected, independent attorney general, exercising prosecutorial responsibility for DC-law felonies (rather than having the U.S. Attorney responsible for both DC-law and national-law prosecutions); (4) an appointed, independent chief financial office; and (5) independent judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state legislature, rather than nominated by the President and confirmed or rejected (or just not acted upon) by the U.S. Senate. It would have a constitutional amending process and provide for a constitutional convention two years after statehood.

Q. Would a YES vote determine an exact boundary between our state and the shrunken District of Columbia (as the constitutional "Seat of the Government of the United States")?

A. Ultimately, boundaries must be negotiated with Congress. We will propose a reduced D.C. which includes the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court. Congress will decide in the admission act. Although the Advisory Referendum refers to boundaries adopted by the Statehood Commission on June 28, that body of five elected officials (Mayor, Council Chairman, and the statehood delegation of two "Shadow" Senators and a "Shadow" Representative) later amended those proposed boundaries. And the DC Council on October 18, 2016 further amended them.

Q. Would a YES vote decide that our state shall guarantee an elected representative form of government? Prepared by

A. We have no choice because the U.S. Constitution guarantees every state a "republican form of government" and Congress will put that in the admission act. This alerts us to that basic American commitment -- no monarchies, hereditary oligarchies, theocracies, or plebiscite-driven democracy allowed here.

Q. Would a YES vote decide on a particular name for our new state?

A. Although the Advisory Referendum refers to "State of New Columbia", the DC Council voted unanimously on October 18 to change that to "State of Washington, D.C." in its proposed draft state constitution. Next year the DC Council could make another change. We are voting about basic civil rights concepts. We are not voting separately about any name.

Q. Where can I find more information?

A. At www.statehood.dc.gov you will find a wealth of background information and details about how we

got to where we are. (Also see www.chairmanmendelson.com.) -- At www.statehoodYES.com you will find advocacy.

Q. Can I still register to vote?

A. Registration in D.C. continues through Election Day. See Board of Elections web site (www.dcboee.org).

Q. When does early voting begin?page3image12368 page3image12528 page3image12688 page3image12848

A. Early voting has already begun downtown, at Old Council Chambers, 441 4th Street NW (Judiciary Square). It will also begin at eight satellite sites on October 28. See Board of Elections web site (https:// www.dcboee.org/ev/ ).

Home Issues D.C. Council Actions Statehood What's the Advisory Referendum on Our Ballot? by David Jonas Bardin