Updated: Jun 22
By Miriam Edelman
This post is a follow-up to "Fears-Turned Reality: Congress and the District of Columbia in 2023 So Far" (https://www.dc-now.org/post/fears-turned-reality-congress-and-the-district-of-columbia-in-2023-so-far) (April 11, 2023). Congressional Republicans are continuing their campaign of interference against D.C. The Washington Post describes it as “the most aggressive and sustained interest Republicans have taken in intervening in D.C. affairs in years, with new bills or hearings or votes targeting D.C. policies sprouting up seemingly every other week.” House Republicans have recently held two more D.C.-focused hearings At a June 7 hearing on D.C. elections, Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee,) remarked, “It’s been more than a week, so it must be time for another hearing designed to inflict insult and injury on 700,000 disenfranchised Americans living in the nation’s capital.”
Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part II (May 16, 2023)
As the U.S. Senate voted to prevent D.C.’s policing bill from becoming law on May 16th, the U.S. House Oversight and Accountability Committee had just held another oversight hearing regarding the District of Columbia, entitled “Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part II.” Witnesses included D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves, D.C. Metropolitan Police’s Police Chief Robert Contee, and D.C. City Administrator Kevin Donahue. This hearing seemingly was a patent effort by Republicans to score political points. U.S. Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL) said in a moment of possible candor, “These hearings are partisan crap shows.”
This hearing focused on crime, money, and education. Graves, whose office has successfully prosecuted scores of defendants for crimes committed during the January 6 insurrection, was criticized for not prosecuting 67 percent of cases. Committee Chair James Comer (R-KY) said the following to him, “We’re not satisfied with your job performance,” and U.S. Representative Jake LaTurner (R-KS) said, “Mr. Graves, your policies are directly endangering the public.” In addition, U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) introduced articles of impeachment against Graves. The criticisms overlook that in addition to the extraordinary burden of the January 6 cases, Mr. Graves is the only U.S. Attorney in the country whose office is responsible for prosecuting local as well as federal crimes and misdemeanors as well as felonies and who operates with the limited resources provided by Congress.
Highlighting a probable reason for this hearing, some Republican committee members talked about the nation’s capital being unsafe. For example, Chair Comer said, “Washington, D.C., clearly has a crime crisis.” As Mayor Bowser said, other large American cities are also having problems with crime. She discussed what D.C. is doing about crime and asked that committee to collaborate. Chair Comer praised Bowser’s recent public safety bill and mentioned their meeting about how they could work with each other.
Chair Comer thanked Mayor Bowser for opposing some criminal justice bills, including D.C.’s crime piece of legislation. Committee Ranking Member Jamie Raskin said to Bowser that there seems to be “an effort to drive a wedge between you and the D.C. Council.” Bowser stated that she and the D.C. Council are against Congressional intervening in local affairs.
As a way of Chair Comer possibly trying to get between Mayer Bowser and the D.C. Council, Chair Comer also seemed to be cooperative with D.C. at other times. He said he would like to look into Congress’ budget rider that prevents Washington, D.C., from taxing and regulating recreational marijuana. For years, D.C. has been wanting this rider to be removed. Comer also wants to help Bowser place a new arena at RFK Stadium. Comer’s proposals to assist D.C. surprised D.C. Delegate Norton.
Committee Democrats seemed to object that Republican members led by Chair Comer were using the device of oversight hearings to intervene in local matters. Mayor Bowser agreed, saying “To be asked questions that the members aren't asking in their own states…It's offensive to think that they would care or know more about crime in D.C. than we do.” She expressed support for D.C. statehood, saying
Indeed, we are not a territory nor a colony, we are not actually a city and not quite a state…But I want to call attention to what it means for our country to have 700,000 disenfranchised Americans living in the shadow of this Capitol – who pay federal taxes, in fact we pay more per capita than any state, who go to war to defend our democracy, and who have all the responsibilities of citizenship….Of course, we can fix it through statehood, and I implore all members not to think of statehood as political but fundamental to building a better democracy.
American Confidence in Elections: The Path to Election Integrity in the District of Columbia (June 7, 2023)
On June 7, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives Committees on House Administration and Oversight and Accountability held a joint hearing, entitled “American Confidence in Elections: The Path to Election Integrity in the District of Columbia.” This hearing continues Congressional interference with D.C. elections, happening after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to prevent D.C.’s bill allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections (B24-0300) from becoming law. That bill became Law L24-0242.
This hearing comes during Republican efforts to change how U.S. elections are run. On July 22, 2022, then-U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) introduced the American Confidence in Elections (ACE) Act. In an op-ed in The Hill on July 27, 2022, Representative Davis (who no longer is in Congress – He had lost in a Republican primary in June 2022. Thus, he introduced this elections bill as a lame-duck Member of Congress.) wrote the following about that D.C.-related bill:
However, the Constitution gives Congress responsibility over the District of Columbia. The ACE Act will implement best practices outlined in the model state legislation in Washington. A lot of false narratives on the left will quickly be debunked when commonsense measures like requiring a photo ID are implemented in such a liberal area with no negative impacts on turnout or effects in the outcome.
The following information on that committee’s website about that legislation clearly describes Republican efforts to transform D.C. elections:
Will exercise Congress' responsibility over D.C. to implement election integrity measures outlined in the model state legislation.
Requires photo ID to vote in person or request absentee ballot, requires annual list maintenance, prohibits same-day registration & ballot harvesting, prohibits automatically mailed ballots, requires post-election audits.
U.S. House Republicans also plan to prohibit non-citizens voting in local D.C. elections, thus ultimately trying to do what it could not do earlier this year during Congressional review of D.C.’s new non-citizens voting law.
How can Americans trust Republicans with election integrity? According to the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council & the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Executive Committees (in the then-Trump Administration), “The November 3rd  election was the most secure in American history.”[which Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-NY) mentioned in the hearing on June 7, 2023] and “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Yet, Republicans repeatedly acted against this election (thus harming democracy) in the following and other ways:
- By December 5, 2020, weeks after the 2020 Presidential election was called for then-Vice President Biden, only 27 Congressional Republicans acknowledged Biden’s victory.
- Texas unsuccessfully tried to prevent Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from voting for Biden in the Electoral College, trying to destroy democracy. More than 12 state Attorneys General supported this case, and more than 125 Republican U.S. Representatives (representing more than 60 percent of House Republicans and including Republican leaders) joined a legal brief supporting this case.
- In January 2021, 147 Republicans (including eight Senators and 139 Representatives) voted to overturn 2020 election results, subverting democracy. Republicans voted this way even after the January 6th insurrection, marking the first time in U.S. history when there has not been a peaceful transition of power. Some Republicans did not cooperate with the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
- A Republican-supported review of the 2020 Presidential elections in Maricopa County, the largest county of Arizona, resulted in a finding that there is no proof that the Arizona election was stolen.
- There have been at least hundreds of anti-democracy election bills in almost all states. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of December 2021, 34 laws in at least 19 states were passed limiting access to voting. In 2021, states enacted much more restrictive voting laws than at least since 2011. As of December 2021, there have been 262 bills in 41 states that would harm elections, and 32 of those pieces of legislation are law in 17 states.
- Most Republican candidates for major federal and state offices in November 2022 raised unsupported reservations about the 2020 elections. The following is the breakdown by type of candidates: 20 out of 37 Republicans gubernatorial candidates (equaling 54.05 percent of Republican candidates), nine of 31 Republican Lt. Governor candidates (equaling 29.03 percent of Republican candidates), nine of 30 Republican Attorney General candidates (equaling 30.00 percent of Republican candidates), 12 out of 27 Republican Secretary of State candidates (equaling 44.44 percent of Republican candidates), 20 of 36 Republican U.S. Senate candidates (equaling 55.56 percent of Republican candidates), and 228 out of 436 Republican U.S. House candidates (equaling 54.59 percent of Republican candidates). While most Republican candidates for Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State did not raise such doubts, the fact that more than 29 percent of Republican candidates for each office had such concerns could harm elections, at least some of those offices are key in the running of elections. Ultimately, many election deniers lost important federal and state offices in November 2022. Most Gubernatorial and Secretary of State candidates who said they would not have validated the 2020 election results and who expressed false election sentiments were defeated.
These challenges are a probable reason why just 37 percent of Republicans in March 2023 believe that Biden won that election legitimately and why 63 percent think there is “solid evidence” that the election was stolen. Over time, more Republicans have accepted these results, but there should never have been any question whether Biden legitimately won that election. Questions about election results seriously harm elections. If people do not believe in election results, they would not want to vote, thus ensuring that election results do not reflect the electorate’ true will.
Statehood activists continue to link these Congressional interferences with statehood. The League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia proclaimed during an Action Alert! regarding this joint hearing, “Please alert your networks about this continued interference into DC's right to self-governance. Prime examples like this make the best case for DC Statehood.”
D.C. Council Member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), the Chair of the D.C. Council Committee on Executive Administration and Labor that has jurisdiction over elections, thinks that Congressional interest in D.C. elections is mysterious. She speculates that this fixation relates to Republicans feelings about election integrity after President Donald Trump incorrectly claims that the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, which he lost, was stolen. She noted D.C. elections operate well. U.S. House Administration Committee Ranking Member Rep. Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) also defended D.C.’s elections while attacking this bill, saying, “Washington D.C. already has accessible, secure and transparent elections. This bill is a threat to our democracy.”
The June 7, 2023, hearing is in the middle of following hearings of the US. House Administration Committee regarding American Confidence in Elections:
- American Confidence in Elections: State Tools to Promote Voter Confidence – Full Committee; April 27, 2023
- American Confidence in Elections: Protecting Political Speech – Full Committee; May 11, 2023
- American Confidence in Elections: Ensuring Every Eligible American has the Opportunity to Vote – and for their Vote to Count According to Law – Subcommittee on Elections; May 24, 2023 – A focus of this hearing was preventing the voting of non-citizens. At that hearing, full committee Chairman Bryan Steil (WI-01) mentioned the District of Columbia, saying
While non-citizens are already prohibited from voting in federal elections, some states and territories allow non-citizens to vote. For example, in the District of Columbia, non-citizens, like embassy staff from Russia and China can vote after living in our country for only 30 days. This vulnerability to nefarious foreign interference in our elections raises serious concerns.... Do you believe non-citizen voting dilutes the votes of U.S. citizens?
- American Confidence in Elections: The Path to Election Integrity in the District of Columbia – Full Committee/joint hearing with the Committee on Oversight and Accountability; June 7, 2023
- American Confidence in Elections: The Role of the Election Assistance Commission in Free, Fair, and Secure Elections – Full Committee; June 14, 2023
There could conceivably be more hearings in this series.
In Chairman Steil’s opening statement at the hearing on June 7, 2023, Steil said that D.C. should be a beacon for a democracy. How can the District of Columbia be a place of democracy when its residents are not treated as full citizens? D.C. has a bigger population than two states (Vermont and Wyoming). As Delegate Norton (D-DC) noted in 2023, “D.C. pays more in federal taxes than 23 states and more in overall federal taxes per capita than any state.” Residents of our nation’s capital pay more in federal taxes than 22 states combined. D.C. residents also fight and die in Americans wars. Since World War I, 200,000 people from the nation’s capital fought for the U.S. overseas. Yet, as Ranking Member Raskin (D-MD) said about the District of Columbia, “It’s the only national capital on Earth whose residents are disenfranchised in their national legislature.” Washington, D.C., residents do not have control over its own local affairs, and it does not have full control over national and international issues. Whenever Congress tries to prevent D.C. government-passed bills from becoming law, it undermined democracy. Since D.C. lacks full Congressional voting representation, it experiences taxation without representation, which is precisely the reason why the original 13 colonies left the United Kingdom and formed the United States. At the D.C -related hearing on June 7, 2023, U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) said, “I don’t know a better example of taxation without representation than what you go through every single day under this extreme majority.”
Witnesses at the hearing on June 7, 2023, were Election Integrity Initiative Ken Cuccinelli; Charles Spies; DC Board of Elections Director Monica Evans; and Brannan Center for Justice Vice President, Democracy Wendy Weiser. The DC Board of Elections runs the nation’s capital’s elections, ballot access, and voter registration.
For years, D.C. elections have been mismanaged…I’m focused on using Congress’s constitutional authority to bring common sense election integrity reforms to the District and protect its voters. The ACE Act takes D.C. from being the poster child on how not to run an election to being the model for states to follow.
Some Republicans noted that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots distributed to every D.C.’s registered voter came back as undeliverable. Evans acknowledged this fact but also discussed D.C.’s work regarding elections integrity. According to Weiser, there is no legitimate reason to end D.C.’s laws regarding same-day voter registration and mail-in ballots being sent to every registered voter. Cuccinelli attacked D.C.’s elections, saying that D.C.’s same-day voter registration and mailing ballots to every voter elevated the possibility of participation by ineligible voters. According to Cuccinelli, voting should happen mainly in person and with the showing of photo identification.
Democrats defended D.C., arguing that D.C.’s increasing voter registration caused increases in access and turnout, and Weisman said that 22 states use same-day voter registration. Those states include Republican states: Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. Wyoming has been described as the U.S.’s most Republican state and has voted Republican in all Presidential elections since 1952 (except for 1964).
Some Democratic Members of Congress defended D.C.’s elections, stating that they enfranchised voters and enlarged turnout. Ranking Member Morelle said, “Elections in Washington, D.C. are among the most accessible and democratic in our country. They are also among the most secure.” U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) cited D.C.’s elections as being among “the best run in the nation.”
D.C.’s recent non-citizens voting law, which Republicans want to repeal via a probable upcoming Congressional bill, was also discussed. Chair Comer discussed his introduction of a resolution against that legislation. He and U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) mentioned the number of Democratic U.S. Representatives who voted to precent that bill from becoming law, appearing to prove bipartisanship opposition to that legislation. U.S. Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) discussed a former foreign embassy official being able to run for D.C. Mayor. According to Cuccinelli, the current situation is a “brazen invitation to foreign interference in a local election.” Ranking Member Raskin, a former Constitutional Law professor, said non-citizen voting has happened since the early history of the U.S. He also remarked,
If only they had shown a fraction of the interest in stopping Donald Trump’s sellout of the American government to Vladimir Putin — on everything from NATO to Syria to Ukraine — as they’re showing about the possibility that a handful of Russian diplomats could sway an Advisory Neighborhood Commission election in Dupont Circle, America would be in a much stronger position today.
Statehood and D.C.’s large African-American population were also discussed at this hearing. Multiple Democrats, including, but not limited to, Ranking Member Raskin and U.S. Representative Cori Bush (D-MO), called for D.C. statehood. Delegate Norton (D-DC) said that a bill granting statehood to D.C. is legal. She and U.S. Representative Bush (D-MO) discussed D.C. residents voting for D.C. statehood. U.S. Representative Shontel Brown (D-OH) said, “The failure to grant D.C. statehood is disenfranchisement of local communities.” According to U.S. Representative Bush (D-MO), D.C. statehood is about freedom and self-determination, and she also said, “Stop holding D.C. hostage.” U.S. Representative H. Griffith (R-VA) also discussed statehood and his retrocession piece of legislation that would give most of Washington, D.C., to Maryland. He said that D.C. was supposed to come from Maryland and Virginia and not to become a state. U.S. Representative Ocasio-Cortez criticized Congressional efforts, saying D.C. elections interference “has nothing to do about election integrity. This is about racial control.”
Local officials decried this hearing. D.C. Attorney General Schwalb said, “It is yet another example of cynical political theatre meant only to further a political agenda that has nothing to do with elections in Washington, DC.” Delegate Norton (D-DC) tweeted, “Today’s hearing, which purports to be motivated by election integrity concerns, is more about Republicans who do not represent DC trying to take control of DC’s local election process.” and “Republicans, none of whom represent DC in Congress, have no business holding today’s hearing.”
Later this Congress, Republicans very well could reintroduce its last Congress’ comprehensive elections bill, which would transform D.C. elections. Then, the Republican-led U.S. House could pass the bill, sending it to the Democrat-led U.S. Senate.
Call to Action
Keep close attention to what happens. Congress most likely will continue to try to meddle in local D.C. affairs. Help defend and protect the nation’s capital. Support statehood for D.C., as statehood would prevent Congress from interfering in D.C. issues. As D.C. Attorney General Schwalb said in his statement regarding the June 7th hearing
The solution to continued Congressional interference is simple and clear – DC must become a state. I call on all of my counterparts in local, state, and federal government to join in the fight for Washingtonians’ basic civil rights, voting rights, and right to govern ourselves.”