According to the list of US states and territories by area, DC is 22 times smaller than the smallest state (Rhode Island). Despite this fact, there is currently a push to turn DC into an independent state. Why is this the preferred option to grant DC voters the right to vote in Congressional elections (they can already vote in Presidential elections), rather than simply merging DC into Maryland?

There is already historical precedent where a part of DC was returned to Virginia, so we know it is constitutionally permissible. Federal buildings could continue to be managed by the federal government, similar to how the current DC statehood proposal intends to keep them under Federal control.

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    Small is a geographic term in this case. It would be bigger in population terms than two existing states.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 18:33
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    @Jontia territory does matter when it comes to statehood. Being an independent state is more important when you have a lot of land to manage. DC is just a city and not even a particularly big one. Also, the current argument about statehood is all about voting for Congressmen, so joining Maryland will resolve it perfectly. Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 18:53
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    @JonathanReez - You're not wrong, but the country as a whole cares more about population amounts than geographic size. Population numbers are used for allocating Representatives (and thus electoral votes), for example. And I believe that a lot of federal programs are on a per-person basis. Also, there are many other cities which are also their whole county. It's only one step beyond that to have a city that's also its whole state. Strange? Definitely. But feasible.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 18:58
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    I happen to live in a federal state, which is also a city, which is also a capital (Berlin in Germany). A few years back there was a push to merge Berlin and the bordering state of Brandenburg. One problem with the idea was the the people in Brandenburg did not want to merge, and one reason for that was that they thought that having the nations capital in their midst would diminish the importance of their own capital. I think major cities in Maryland would feel similar (also Brandenburg would have needed to accepts Berlins debts, which was a no-go, no idea if that would apply here). Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 19:06
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    @JonathanReez not really because the size of the area or population is not the start of the logical process. The starting point being the ability to vote for House and Senate members, which residents of NYC can do, but residents of Washington DC cannot.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 7:08

3 Answers 3


You seem to miss the really obvious answer. If DC becomes a state, it gets two Senators and at least one Representative. If it merges into Maryland, it just gets to vote for the Senators & Representatives of those states.

There are also cultural & political issues. Would Maryland even WANT DC back, given that it would exacerbate the current urban/rural divide, and perhaps* saddle the state with the costs of administering the city?

*I don't know exact finances, but a quick search suggests that spending exceeds tax revenue, so the rest of Maryland would see increased taxes.

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    So DC is being disingenuous when they claim they simply want to cast a vote for Congress and in reality they just want two "free" Democratic senators? Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 5:34
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    Sure, if by "free" you mean won in an open and fair election by advancing policies that the voters of the region support. Local Republicans support DC Statehood as well, though wikipedia's source link is dead.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 7:20
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    Virginia got it's portion of DC back in 1847; the border between DC and Virginia follows the Virginia shoreline of the Potomac, rather than the center channel, but the same is true of the Maryland/Virginia border both upstream and downstream of DC. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 8:38
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    Downvoted for "or more sensibly, into Maryland and Virginia (splitting along the Potomac River, which forms the rest of the border between the two)". That split occurred 174 years ago. What are now Arlington VA and Alexandria VA were once a part of a 100 square mile District of Columbia. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 22:54
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    I retracted my downvote after jamesfq edited the answer. That Virginia decided to expand the boundaries of the city of Alexandria after the retrocession is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the District of Columbia has been smaller than 10 miles by 10 miles square for over 170 years. Commented Jul 4, 2020 at 3:07

The bulk of the argument seems to be that DC is determined to have self-rule, rather than be folded into the existing political situation of another state. From this article

With retrocession, DC and its Democratic allies would permanently sacrifice the substantial power and clout that full statehood offers while Marylanders would invite a sizable political shakeup by adding a deeply blue city to their somewhat purple state. Also, while Washingtonians would gain true representation in both Congress and the Maryland state legislature, and would maintain a local government, the dream of true DC home rule would die with retrocession.

This was echoed by Former Mayor Muriel Bowser

The residents of the District of Columbia really want to forge a new path towards statehood. And we can start with budget autonomy, unhooking our government from the federal government.

And Maryland doesn't seem to like the idea either. From this 2016 poll *

Q22 Would you support or oppose Maryland annexing Washington DC?

  • 28% Support Maryland annexing Washington DC
  • 44% Oppose Maryland annexing Washington DC
  • 28% Not Sure

* Note that this was a general interest poll, and there were a lot of non-political questions asked

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    Are there past examples of local vs non-local preferences wrt getting statehood? (Preferably not part of the taint slave-state/non-slave-state horsetrading). Who got their wish? Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 3:57

I would imagine most of the Puerto Ricans who want to be a state don't want to be merged into Florida, and most of them who want to be independent of the US don't want to be merged into Cuba. DC is a distinct community, and there isn't much support for making it part of Maryland because it's not a part of Maryland. It's not like there a push to make Rhode Island part of Connecticut. And the whole point of having DC in the first place was to not have a particular state control the capital. Technically, making DC a state would mean that there's a state that controls the capital, but only because it is the capital. Also, according to the US constitution, adding DC to Maryland would require the consent of Maryland.

And it is a bit misleading to speak of DC as "wanting" something. That can be interpreted as meaning "the majority of DC residents", but if so, then just saying that is more clear. And it's really the US Congress' desires that are more relevant.

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    Puerto Rico is 50 times bigger than DC, is located on a relatively distant island and has a much larger percentage of Spanish speakers than Florida. Completely different situation from DC, which is not even that big of a city in the first place. Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 5:14
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    @jonathanreez Why is acreage so important to you in terms of who gets a say in their own government? Land doesn’t vote, so why does a small population spread out over a big territory deserve more representation than a big territory? This isn’t an abstract question—Wyoming has less population than DC, yet you seem to think it’s righteous for the people of Wyoming to get Congressional representation while simultaneously denying it to the people of DC. We can debate who should get more, but for one group of people to get none, not even indirectly, is an obvious injustice. Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 7:51
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    I think Johnathan’s argument was more along the lines of ‘merging something that’s extremely far away and has a very different population into the state that happens to be closest by light of flight is ludicrous (and is thus a bad example for what to do or not to do with DC)’. That said, even by population PR is five times as large as DC if I estimated the maths correctly.
    – Jan
    Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 13:08
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    @JonathanReez Partisans of DC statehood would argue that it counterbalances, rather than "deepens the imbalance", the impact of Wyoming and other small, mostly rural states in the Senate and the Electoral College. It's also not clear to me that Maryland wants to absorb DC or that DC wants to be absorbed by Maryland, and why should two distinct political entities be forced to merge against the wishes of the people that live there? Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 18:08
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    I'm not sure DC having a distinct culture means anything. That's pretty much true of any city compared to the rest of the state it's in. When I lived in northern New York state the attitude was nothing like NYC. In fact it seemed like Albany and NYC are completely different from the rest of New york.
    – RWW
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 22:27

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