A charter amendment to amend the charter

On this blog, I have criticized two amendments to the Home Rule Charter of the District of Columbia, one providing for election of the attorney general and another for expulsion of the mayor and members of the council.

The approval of both amendments by popular vote seems to result from D.C. voters’ rush to embrace anything that sounds like reform. Furthermore, it seems that many voters don’t know or think about proposed charter amendments until election day and vote “yes” or “no” without having any informed consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal in question. (I am guilty of this also.)

I don’t see much opportunity for informed deliberation on charter amendments when they are put on the ballot. Note that the U.S. Constitution is amended not by popular vote but through a process that provides many opportunities for deliberation in state legislatures and in Congress.

A way to improve the process for D.C. charter amendments could be to replace approval by popular election with approval by a supermajority (2/3 or 3/4) of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. (This would, I think, require amending the charter by popular vote!) ANC meetings would thus provide a formal opportunity for citizens to learn about proposed amendments and to hear and discuss diverse views of them. Involving the ANCs in this way would ensure that approval or rejection of a charter amendment is the result of an informed, moderated discussion rather than a reaction to a scandal or a rush to promote change under the illusion of a more ethical and responsive government.

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