November 10, 2016
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) welcomes the encouraging result of the DC Statehood referendum, held alongside the 58th presidential election on 8 November 2016. With an overwhelming majority of 86 percent, residents of the District of Columbia expressed their strong support for the referendum, which calls for the US Congress to finally give them full representation as the US’ 51st state of New Columbia, DC (Douglass Commonwealth). The positive outcome of the referendum is a promising step forward and will be an effective tool in the hands of city officials to lobby Congress to ultimately grant the District Statehood.
Following an invitation from the District’s Shadow Senator Paul Strauss, a leading member of the DC Statehood movement, four UNPO representatives were given the chance to act as election observers and observe the voting procedures in one of the District’s polling stations. The UNPO observers have come to the conclusion that voting in the observed polling station was conducted in a professional, organized and transparent manner and conformed to international democratic standards of free and fair elections.
On 8 November 2016, residents of the District of Columbia were invited to vote in a referendum asking the voters if they want to turn the nation’s capital into the US’s 51st state, thereby putting an end to Congress having exclusive control over DC’s affairs and giving the District’s over 658,000 disenfranchised residents full representation and citizenship rights, such as formal voting representation in Congress and equal political rights. An overwhelming majority of 86 percent voted for the Statehood ballot. As the referendum is not legally binding, Districts leaders will now petition Congress to make DC the 51st of the Union. Congress would have to propose an amendment to the Constitution, which would then have to win a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
UNPO welcomes the result of the referendum as a promising step in the right direction and congratulates the District’s leaders on the ballot’s overwhelming success. The massive voter turnout and their resounding “yes” to DC Statehood are a strong signal that DC residents are tired of being denied equality and a clear political mandate to DC leaders to continue in their fight for equal representation. Even though it is completely unclear how the District’s residents’ unequivocal decision in favour of DC Statehood will be received by Congress and the White House – now both controlled by the Republicans – UNPO remains hopeful and will continue to fully support the efforts of DC leaders and residents in their struggle to end Washingtonians’ status as second-class citizens.
UNPO observes election procedures in DC Statehood Referendum
Following an invitation from Senator Paul Strauss (DC, Shadow), a leading member of the DC Statehood movement, four UNPO representatives were given the chance to act as election observers and observe the voting procedures in one of the District’s polling stations on 8 November 2016. The UNPO election observation team was deployed to the Kennedy Recreation Center (Precinct 18), one of a total of 143 voting precincts within the District. The one-hour observation was an opportunity for the election observers to get a sense of the political atmosphere on the ground and an insight into the overall voting process at a polling station which was markedly diverse with regards to the age, race and gender of voters present at the station during the time of observation.
At the polling station visited by UNPO, the polling staff was properly trained in the execution of their duties. They acted professionally and courteously and informed voters of the voting process in an impartial and transparent manner. The Precinct Captain welcomed the UNPO delegation and provided all necessary information. UNPO staff was asked to sign in and out in an observer registration book, reflecting the rights and responsibilities of both parties in the observation process. The UNPO observers had a clear and unobstructed view of the voting procedures and were in no way restricted in their observation.
There was sufficient access to the polling station which had an adequate layout. Even though some queues were observed, it generally took less than 15 minutes to process one voter. Voters were able to exercise their right to vote in a peaceful and orderly manner and without incidents. UNPO observed no signs of intimidation or harassment to influence or obstruct the electoral process. The voting process was transparent, free and fair. The secrecy of the ballot was protected and respected.
Critical observations were made by UNPO representatives with regards to voter identification and campaign activities taking place in the vicinity of the polling station. With regards to voter identification, UNPO observed that people were allowed to vote without having to present a proper (photo) ID. However, it has to be noted that while, internationally, it is generally required for a person to present some form of official identification in order to receive a ballot (thereby reducing the risk of voter fraud), the United States’ voter ID law is very much fragmented, with the District of Columbia being among many US states where no ID is required to vote. This observation is thus not proof of a procedural irregularity, but only of the complexity of the US’ voter ID law.
To conclude, the UNPO election observers did not observe a pattern of irregularities. They come to the overall conclusion that voting in the observed polling station was conducted in a professional, organized and transparent manner and conformed to international democratic standards of free and fair elections.