Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Twenty-third Amendment (Amendment XXIII) to the United States Constitution extends the right to vote in the presidential election to citizens residing in the District of Columbia by granting the District electors in the Electoral College, as if it were a state. The amendment was proposed by the 86th Congress on June 16, 1960, and ratified by the states on March 29, 1961.

The Electoral College, established in Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, is the institution that elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. The President and Vice President are not elected directly by the voters. Instead, they are elected by "electors" who are chosen by popular vote on a state-by-state basis. As the District of Columbia is not a state, it was not entitled to any electors prior to the adoption of the Twenty-third Amendment. Citizens living in the district were therefore shut out from the presidentialvice presidential election process. The first presidential election in which the District of Columbia participated was the election of 1964. This amendment mentions the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution when it mentions how the district's electors should perform duties provided by said amendment.

According to the terms of the amendment, the district is allocated as many electors as it would have if it were a state, but no more electors than the least populous state (currently Wyoming, which has three electors); thus, the district cannot have more than three electors. Even if it were a state, the district's population would entitle it to only three electors.[1] Since the passage of this amendment, the District's electoral votes have been cast for the Democratic Party's presidential and vice presidential candidates in every election.[2]


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.[3]


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 I, Section 8 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."[4] 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.[5]

In 1890, a bill was introduced in Congress to grant Washington, D.C. voting rights in presidential elections, but it did not proceed forward.[6] 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.[6] 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 and 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.[6] 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.[6] 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 factorsinexperience in voting, educational handicaps, residency requirements, welfare laws, and social ostracism before the Voting Rights Act of 1965minimized black registration and voting".[7]

Proposal and ratification

The Twenty-third Amendment in the National Archives

Adoption by the Congress

Senate Joint Resolution39, which would eventually become the Twenty-third Amendment was introduced in 1959 by Tennessee Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver. His proposal would provide for the emergency functioning of Congress and continuity of the legislative process by authorized governors to fill vacancies in the House of Representatives “on any date that the total number of vacancies ... exceeds half of the authorized membership.” The governor’s appointive authority would have been limited to 60 days, and the appointee would have served until a successor was elected in a special election. The bill was amended twice on the Senate floor. One added provision, proposed by New York Republican Kenneth Keating, would grant the District of Columbia electoral votes in national elections and non-voting delegate(s) to the House. The other, offered by Florida Democrat Spessard Holland, would eliminate the poll tax or other property qualification as a prerequisite for voting in federal elections. The Senate passed SJR39 in this three-amendment form on February 2, 1960, by a vote of 7018, and sent it forward to the House.

The House Judiciary Committee, after setting aside the anti-poll tax and House emergency appointment provisions of SJR39, sent its own proposal, House Joint Resolution757, devoted solely to presidential electors for the District of Columbia, to the House floor for consideration. This was adopted in the House without amendment, by voice vote, on June 14, 1960. Then, by unanimous consent, the text of HJR757 was inserted into SJR39, the original language of which was removed. The Senate adopted the revised resolution by voice vote on June 16, 1960.[8][9][10]

Ratification by the states

  Ratified amendment, 196061
  Ratified amendment after its certification
  Rejected amendment
  No action taken on amendment

To become valid as part of the Constitution, the Twenty-third Amendment needed to be ratified by the legislatures of three-quarters of the states (38, following admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the union in 1959) within seven years from its submission to the states by Congress (June 16, 1967). President Eisenhower, along with both major party candidates in the 1960 presidential election, Vice-President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy, endorsed the proposal. Amendment supporters ran an effective ratification campaign, mobilizing persons in almost every state to press for its approval.[7]

The following states ratified the amendment:[11]

  1. Hawaii — June 23, 1960
  2. Massachusetts — August 22, 1960
  3. New Jersey — December 19, 1960
  4. New York — January 17, 1961
  5. California — January 19, 1961
  6. Oregon — January 27, 1961
  7. Maryland — January 30, 1961
  8. Idaho — January 31, 1961
  9. Maine — January 31, 1961
  10. Minnesota — January 31, 1961
  11. New Mexico — February 1, 1961
  12. Nevada — February 2, 1961
  13. Montana — February 6, 1961
  14. Colorado — February 8, 1961
  15. Washington — February 9, 1961
  16. West Virginia — February 9, 1961
  17. Alaska — February 10, 1961
  18. Wyoming — February 13, 1961
  19. South Dakota — February 14, 1961 (date of filing in Office of Secretary of State of South Dakota)
  20. Delaware — February 20, 1961
  21. Utah — February 21, 1961
  22. Wisconsin — February 21, 1961
  23. Pennsylvania — February 28, 1961
  24. Indiana — March 3, 1961
  25. North Dakota — March 3, 1961
  26. Tennessee — March 6, 1961
  27. Michigan — March 8, 1961
  28. Connecticut — March 9, 1961
  29. Arizona — March 10, 1961
  30. Illinois — March 14, 1961
  31. Nebraska — March 15, 1961
  32. Vermont — March 15, 1961
  33. Iowa — March 16, 1961
  34. Missouri — March 20, 1961
  35. Oklahoma — March 21, 1961
  36. Rhode Island — March 22, 1961
  37. Kansas — March 29, 1961
  38. Ohio — March 29, 1961

Ratification was completed on March 29, 1961, 9 months and 12 days after being proposed by Congress. The amendment was subsequently ratified by the following states:

39. New Hampshire — March 30, 1961 (Date in official notice; preceded by ratification on March 29, 1961, as the 37th state to ratify, which was annulled and then repeated later that same day.)
40. Alabama — April 11, 2002

On April 3, 1961, John L. Moore, Administrator of General Services, certified that the amendment had been adopted by the requisite number of States and had become a part of the Constitution.

The amendment was rejected by Arkansas on January 24, 1961.[12] Nine states took no action on the amendment: Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Political impact

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.[7] 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. The District's electoral votes have yet to prove decisive in a presidential election. The smallest Electoral College majority won by a Democratic president since the Twenty-third Amendment's ratification was the 56 vote majority achieved by Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Unaddressed by the Twenty-third Amendment were the parallel issues of congressional representation and "home rule" for the district. 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.[13] These officials were empowered to pass laws and enact administrative policies for the District, though Congress retained veto power, if they chose to intervene. On March 23, 1971, President Nixon signed the District of Columbia Delegate Act which authorized voters in the District to elect one non-voting delegate to represent them in the House of Representatives.[14] On August 22, 1978, Congress submitted the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment to the states for ratification.[15][16] 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 Twenty-third 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.[17] 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.[17] The campaign for the proposed amendment ran into much fiercer conservative opposition due to the open and obvious fact that by 1978 the proposed amendment would have practically guaranteed two Democratic Senators for some time; the amendment was criticized on various other grounds as well, and was not ratified even from several more "liberal" states.[18]

See also


  1. Table 1. Annual Estimates of the Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011 in State Totals: Vintage 2011, United States Census Bureau.
  2. Barring a faithless elector in the 2000 election who refused to cast a vote.
  3. United States Government Printing Office. "PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS FOR D. C. TWENTY-THIRD AMENDMENT" (PDF).
  4. "U.S. Senate: Constitution of the United States". 2 June 2015. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  5. Vose, p. 112.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Vose, p. 114115.
  7. 1 2 3 Vose, p. 116.
  8. Sula P. Richardson (August 12, 2003). "House Vacancies: Proposed Constitutional Amendments for Filling Them Due to National Emergencies". CRS Report for Congress, RL32031. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  9. Breneman, Lory (2000). Tamara Tamara, ed. Senate Manual Containing the Standing Rules, Orders, Laws and Resolutions Affecting the Business of the United States Senate (Senate Document 106-1 ed.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 959. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  10. Vile, John R. Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789–2002 (Second ed.). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc,. p. 480. ISBN 1851094334. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  12. Mintz, Morton (January 25, 1961). "Arkansas Is First To Reject District Voting Amendment". The Washington Post. p. B1.
  13. "District of Columbia Home Rule Act". Government of the District of Columbia. February 1999. Retrieved May 27, 2008.
  14. "84 Stat. 845 - An Act to establish a Commission on the Organization of the Government of the District of Columbia and to provide for a Delegate to the House of Representatives from the District of Columbia". Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  15. 124 Congressional Record 5272–5273
  16. 124 Congressional Record 27260
  17. 1 2 "The Failed Amendments". Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  18. Vose, p. 120125.


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