The Twenty-Third Amendment

I was reading the Constitution the other day (’cause that’s what people like me do in their spare time), and I paused over something in the Twenty-Third Amendment that I had not thought about.  The Amendment gave the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential elections, but the text specifically says that the District shall not be entitled to more electoral votes “than the least populous state.”  So even though Washington DC has more people than Vermont or Wyoming, the District cannot get more electoral votes than they do.

In practice, I do not think that this has mattered since the 23rd Amendment was ratified.  In other words, the District has not been entitled under the standard calculation to anything other than three electoral votes over the past fifty years (1964 was the first presidential election in which DC voted).  That could change at some point, though, and I wonder why this provision was included.  Just to make it clear that the District is second-class?  You would think that denying Washington DC its own Senators and Representative would make that plain enough.

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1 Response

  1. Ira Matetsky says:

    The limitation of “but in no event more than the least populous state” was apparently contained in the draft of the amendment that was proposed by Representative Emanuel Celler of New York. The House and Senate Judiciary Committee reports on the proposed amendment (joint resolution) should contain some explanation for the limitation, and I will try to put my hands on them. If I had to speculate, I would suggest that Rep. Celler was trying to make the amendment less controversial and hence more likely to pass.

    The proposed “D.C. Amendment” of the 1970s, which would have given the District full voting representation in Congress, would also have eliminated this limitation. Of course, this amendment was not ratified.