On March 9, the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued a major report on the 2006 mid-term US congressional elections(PDF), and concluded that the US government violates DC citizens’ basic political rights, as well as those of US citizens living in the territories, by denying them full representation in Congress. The OSCE report states, among other things, that “US citizens who are not citizens of one of the fifty states are not able to vote for members of Congress who have the right to vote on the floor. . . . These restrictions exist even though such US citizens are subject to US federal law and pay federal taxes. . . . It is . . . estimated that in Washington, DC, alone, without including US citizens of US territories, up to half a million US citizens are not permitted to vote in federal elections for full congressional representation. As these citizens are subject to US laws, including taxation, the denial of full representation, as underscored by the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, would appear to be a limitation of voting rights.” The OSCE recommends that “US authorities should consider all possibilities to provide full representation rights for all US citizens.”
The OSCE is Europe’s largest human rights monitoring body. It is composed of 56 countries, spans the globe from Russia to Canada, and is the world’s preeminent democratic election monitoring body, which regularly observes elections in all OSCE countries. The US is a founding member of the organization, and is bound by all of its human rights commitment. The right to participate equally in one’s own national legislature is a key OSCE democratic election standard under the 1990 Copenhagen Act. In 2002, Worldrights launched a campaign to win the OSCE’s endorsement of full Congressional voting rights for DC residents. Since then, Worldrights has appeared at the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation meetings in Warsaw, Poland, pressing for the OSCE to address the DC issue and make recommendations. The complete report may be found at: https://www.world-rights.org.
Worldrights has also requested that the US Helsinki Commission, under the new leadership of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), hold hearings on US noncompliance. The Helsinki Commission regularly monitors the human rights compliance of other OSCE countries.
On July 1st, 2005 I greeted the OSCE parliamentarians when they met in Washington, DC for the first time. Alongside Tim, Statehood Green Party members, and DC Vote, we organized a street meet & greet, where I said hello to the parliamentarians dressed in my colonial costume as they entered the hotel for the day’s meetings.
That afternoon we had a press conference in Freedom Plaza (you can watch the video here, scroll down to OSCE) next to a ballot box enclosed in a barbed wire fence. The following day, we conducted the first even naval lobbying effort in the history of D.C.! As the OSCE parliamentarians took a yatch ride to the historic home of George Washington, we followed them on D.C. Shadow Senator’s Paul Strauss’ boat with a banner that read “OSCE Equal Voting Rights for D.C.”
Seeing this continued postition of the OSCE is great news and shows that our efforts have had a lasting impact. Alas, we still are denied representation in both chambers of Congress….
G. NON-ELIGIBILITY OF U.S. CITIZENS WHO ARE NOT CITIZENS OF A STATE
Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that members of the House of Representatives are chosen â€œby the people of the several statesâ€. Article 1 further provides that the U.S. Senate consists of â€œtwo Senators from each stateâ€. Consequently, U.S. citizens who are not citizens of one of the fifty states are not able to vote for members of Congress who have the right to vote on the floor. (71) However, a citizen of a state who is also a resident of a U.S. territory or of the District of Columbia, depending on the law and election administration practice of the particular state, may be able to exercise voting rights in his or her state of citizenship by absentee ballot. It is, however, estimated (72) that in Washington D.C. alone, without including U.S. citizens of U.S. territories, up to half a million U.S. citizens are not permitted to vote in federal elections for full congressional representation. As these citizens are subject to US laws, including taxation, the denial of full representation, as underscored by the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, would appear to be a limitation of voting rights. (73)
Court cases challenging this situation have been unsuccessful, as court decisions have relied on the explicit word â€œstateâ€ in the text of Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. (74) Draft legislation, the District of Columbia Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act, was introduced in Congress in 2005, 2006, and 2007 granting citizens of the District of Columbia voting representation in Congress. This legislation has not yet been put to a vote in Congress. U.S. authorities should consider all possibilities to provide full representation rights for all U.S. citizens.
73. Such jurisdictions are granted a â€œvoiceâ€ in the U.S. Congress through non-voting Delegates to the House of Representatives. The District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands each elect a Delegate for a two-year term in direct elections. Puerto Rico elects a Resident Commissioner, instead of a Delegate, for a four-year term in direct elections. Although none can vote on the final passage of legislation, they can vote in committee hearings and on amendments.
74. See Albaugh v. Tawes, 379 US 27 (1964) and Adams v. Clinton, 531 US 941 (2000).