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The fight for America's 51st state, explained

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Washington, DC is closer than ever to becoming a state. Could it actually happen?

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On June 26, 2020, the US House of Representatives voted to make Americas capital city, Washington, DC, the countrys 51st state. It was a historic vote, and the closest the country has come to adding a new state in over 60 years. But it was also, for the time being, completely symbolic. Because at least in 2020, DC has no chance of actually becoming a state.

That June 26 vote was almost entirely along party lines; Democrats mostly voted in favor of DC statehood, and Republicans against it. Thats because making DC a state would give the Democrats additional seats in Congress, potentially affecting the balance of power between the parties. Its why President Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate have both promised to strike down any bid for DC statehood. And in fact, statehood in the US has always been a political issue. In the past, the US has often added states in pairs to preserve the political balance. Admitting a new state on its own has happened, but its unusual.

But the case for DC statehood is strong: The city has a similar population to several states, its hundreds of thousands of residents lack any say in national lawmaking, and its local government is uniquely vulnerable to being strong-armed by Congress and the federal government. Simply put, the laws that created the district did not anticipate that it would one day be a major city. And while in 1993, the last time Congress voted on DC statehood, the Democratic-controlled House failed to pass it, todays Democratic Party is increasingly on board with it. If 2020s election puts the Democrats in full control of the federal government, America might actually get its 51st state.

Further reading:

More on how the US has added new states in the past:
https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/9/18/20863026/dc-statehood-george-floyd-puerto-rico-statehood

What it would take for DC to become a state:
https://www.vox.com/2020/6/22/21293168/dc-statehood-vote-filibuster-supreme-court-joe-biden

How Congress has interfered with DC:
https://www.dcvote.org/ending-congressional-interference

And a history of why the idea of a federal district is written in the constitution:
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/united-states-history/why-washington-dc-not-state-started-drunken-mob/

Note: The headline on this piece has been updated.
Previous headline: Why Washington, DC isn't a state

Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com.

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