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The Twenty-third Amendment (Amendment XXIII) to the United States Constitution permits citizens in the District of Columbia to vote for Electors for President and Vice President. The amendment was proposed by Congress on June 17, 1960, and ratified by the states on March 29, 1961. The first Presidential election in which it was in effect was the presidential election of 1964. Before the passage of the amendment, residents of Washington, D.C. were forbidden from voting for President or Vice President as the District is not a U.S. state. The amendment reversed the capital's electoral situation without addressing the parallel question of congressional representation: Its residents are still unable to send voting Representatives or Senators to Congress.
The amendment restricts the district to the number of Electors of the least populous state, irrespective of its own population. As of 2013, that state is Wyoming, which has three Electors. However, even without this clause, the district's present population would entitle it to only three Electors. Since the passage of this amendment, the District's electoral votes have gone towards the candidates of the Democratic Party in every presidential election.
Section 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The United States Constitution's rules for the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate explicitly grant seats to states, and no other entities. Similarly, electors to the electoral college are apportioned to states, not to territories or the federal district. The main reference to the federal district is in Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution which gives Congress the power "To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States." In the early existence of the District, it was too small and rural to merit a hypothetical seat in the House of Representatives anyway, with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants.
In 1890, a bill was introduced into Congress to grant Washington, D.C. voting rights in presidential elections; it did not proceed forward, however. Theodore W. Noyes, a writer of the Washington Evening Star, published a number of stories in support of D.C. voting rights. Noyes also helped found the Citizens' Joint Committee on National Representation for the District of Columbia, a citizen's group which lobbied Congress to pass an amendment expanding D.C. voting rights. Noyes died in 1946, but the Citizens' Joint Committee continued onward, and the issue of District voting rights began to be seen as similar to the civil rights movement. A split developed between advocates for greater power for the District after World War II. The Evening Star, continuing in the Noyes mold, supported D.C. representation in Congress and the electoral college, but opposed "home rule" (locally elected mayors & councils with actual power, rather than direct rule by Congress). The Washington Post, however, supported "home rule" and civil rights, but opposed full-fledged representation for the District. Additionally, while many of the people leading the push were liberal Democrats, the District of Columbia in the 1950s was fairly balanced in its potential voting impact; Democrats had only a slight edge over Republicans, although District Republicans in the 1950s were liberal by national standards. Thus, an amendment to grant the District increased voting powers was able to gain bipartisan support in a way that would have been more difficult later. Only 28% of the District was African-American according to the 1940 census, and the black population was young compared to other residents, making the voting electorate even smaller due to the voting age of 21. This grew to 54% in the 1960 census, but according to historian Clement E. Vose, "various factors—inexperience in voting, educational handicaps, residency requirements, welfare laws, and social ostracism before the Voting Rights Act of 1965—minimized black registration and voting."
With District voting rights seen as a politically neutral, pro-civil rights measure, the 23rd Amendment was passed by Congress on a voice vote and sent to the state legislatures for ratification on June 16, 1960. It had the support of both Republican President Eisenhower, national Democratic leaders, and later, both party's candidates in the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The South, dominated by conservative Democrats, was considered a lost cause because of the District's large black population and urban and liberal reputation. Elsewhere, however, Amendment supporters ran a competent campaign, sending natives of each State with knowledge of the local politics to campaign for passage of the Amendment. It was emphasized as a nonpolitical, nonpartisan measure of fairness to avoid antagonizing any party who might think that it was a power grab. Still, the most important person in the ratification may have been Senator Thruston B. Morton of Kentucky, the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1959–1961. He took the risk that the District would favor Democrats, and conscientiously worked for passage nonetheless, even helping convince the Republican-controlled legislature of Kansas to be the 38th state to ratify the amendment. Ratification by the state legislatures was achieved fairly rapidly, in only 286 days. The Citizens' Joint Committee on National Representation, considering its job done, closed its doors in 1961. Senator Morton called it a great day "for the general principle of suffrage for all in the United States."
Congress proposed the Twenty-third Amendment on June 17, 1960. The following states ratified the amendment:
- Hawaii (June 23, 1960)
- Massachusetts (August 22, 1960)
- New Jersey (December 19, 1960)
- New York (January 17, 1961)
- California (January 19, 1961)
- Oregon (January 27, 1961)
- Maryland (January 30, 1961)
- Idaho (January 31, 1961)
- Maine (January 31, 1961)
- Minnesota (January 31, 1961)
- New Mexico (February 1, 1961)
- Nevada (February 2, 1961)
- Montana (February 6, 1961)
- South Dakota (February 6, 1961)
- Colorado (February 8, 1961)
- Washington (February 9, 1961)
- West Virginia (February 9, 1961)
- Alaska (February 10, 1961)
- Wyoming (February 13, 1961)
- Delaware (February 20, 1961)
- Utah (February 21, 1961)
- Wisconsin (February 21, 1961)
- Pennsylvania (February 28, 1961)
- Indiana (March 3, 1961)
- North Dakota (March 3, 1961)
- Tennessee (March 6, 1961)
- Michigan (March 8, 1961)
- Connecticut (March 9, 1961)
- Arizona (March 10, 1961)
- Illinois (March 14, 1961)
- Nebraska (March 15, 1961)
- Vermont (March 15, 1961)
- Iowa (March 16, 1961)
- Missouri (March 20, 1961)
- Oklahoma (March 21, 1961)
- Rhode Island (March 22, 1961)
- Ohio (March 29, 1961)
- Kansas (March 29, 1961)
- Ratification was completed on March 29, 1961. The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:
- New Hampshire (March 30, 1961)
- Alabama (April 11, 2002)
The New Hampshire ratification was somewhat irregular; a vote for ratification was taken on the 29th, but was immediately rescinded. Another vote was taken on the 30th to ratify the amendment.
The amendment was rejected by the following state:
- Arkansas (January 24, 1961)
The following states have not ratified the amendment:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
While perceived as politically neutral and only somewhat liberal-leaning at the time of passage in 1961, the District swung dramatically toward the Democratic Party in the years after passage. African-Americans voted in greater numbers than they had in the 1940s and 1950s with the clearing away of restrictions on the vote, and their share of the District electorate increased - according to the 1970 census, 71% of the Federal District was black, a dramatic jump. Accordingly, the District has sent its 3 electoral votes to the Democratic candidate in every single presidential election since 1964, including the 1984 landslide re-election of President Reagan, where only the District of Columbia and Minnesota voted for Democratic candidate Walter Mondale.
While agitation for further voting rights were stilled for a time after the passage of the 23rd Amendment, they resumed again in the late 1960s and 1970s, with demands for "home rule" and representation in Congress. On December 24, 1973, Congress approved the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which established an elected office of mayor and a 13-member elected council for the district. These officials were empowered pass laws and enact administrative policies for the District, though Congress retained veto power, if they chose to intervene. On August 22, 1978, Congress adopted the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. This sweeping proposal would have granted the District of Columbia full representation in the United States Congress as if it were a state, repealed the 23rd Amendment and granted the District full representation in the Electoral College plus participation in the process by which the Constitution is amended as if it were a state. The amendment failed to become part of the Constitution however, as it was not ratified by the required number of states (38) prior to its August 22, 1985 ratification deadline. The campaign for the DCRA ran into much fiercer conservative opposition due to the open and obvious fact by 1978 that the DCRA would practically guarantee 2 Democratic Senators for some time; the amendment was criticized on various other grounds as well, and did not gain support even from several more "liberal" states.
- District of Columbia statehood movement
- District of Columbia voting rights
- District of Columbia retrocession
- Political party strength in Washington, D.C.
- United States Government Printing Office. "PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS FOR D. C. TWENTY-THIRD AMENDMENT". gpo.gov.
- Constitution of the United States
- Vose, p. 112.
- Vose, p. 114–115.
- Vose, p. 116.
- Vose, p. 119–120.
- 23rd Amendment Wins; Washington, D.C. to Vote. The Toledo Blade, March 30, 1961.
- Mount, Steve (January 2007). "Ratification of Constitutional Amendments". Retrieved October 11, 2008.
- "Case Urges N.J. Ratify Vote for D.C.". The Washington Post. June 25, 1960. p. A10.
- Suber, Peter. Population Changes and Constitutional Amendments: Federalism Versus Democracy. Accessed 2010-01-22.
- Amendment XXIII: Election rules for the District of Columbia. Accessed 2010-01-22.
- Mintz, Morton (January 25, 1961). "Arkansas Is First To Reject District Voting Amendment". The Washington Post. p. B1.
- "District of Columbia Home Rule Act". Government of the District of Columbia. February 1999. Retrieved May 27, 2008.
- 124 Congressional Record 5272–5273
- 124 Congressional Record 27260
- Vose, p. 120–125.
- Constitution of the United States.
- Kilman, Johnny and George Costello (Eds). (2000). The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation.
- Vose, Clement (1978). "When District of Columbia Representation Collides with the Constitutional Amendment Institution". Publius (Oxford University Press) 9 (1): 105–125. Retrieved February 1, 2013.
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