Passed by Congress June 16, 1960. Ratified March 29, 1961.
SECTION. 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as 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.
Although New York was the nation’s capital when the Constitution was ratified, the capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790 for ten years.
In 1800, the District of Columbia became the official seat of government. When first established, the town had a small population of only five thousand residents. As a federal territory, however, and not a state, the inhabitants had neither a local government, nor the right to vote in federal elections. Although by 1960 the population of the District of Columbia had grown to over 760,000 people, and District residents had all the responsibilities of citizenship—they were required to pay federal taxes and could be drafted to serve in the military—citizens in thirteen states with lower populations had more voting rights than District residents.
Passed by Congress on June 17, 1960, and ratified by the states on March 29, 1961, Amendment XXIII treats the District of Columbia as if it were a state for purposes of the Electoral College, thereby giving residents of the District the right to have their votes counted in presidential elections.
Significantly, Amendment XXIII does not make Washington, D.C. a state; it merely grants its citizens the number of electors that it would have if it were a state (but no more than the smallest state). Nor does the amendment provide District residents with representation in Congress (D.C. residents have one non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives) or change the way the District is governed. Congress continues to prescribe the District’s form of government.
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Article I provides for the creation of a federal district to be the nation’s capital, but it does not deal with suffrage for the District of Columbia’s residents. Some scholars argue that the District of Columbia, like any other federal territory, was to be eligible for statehood once it reached sufficient population. Others believe that the District, which was once part of Maryland, must always remain under congressional control to preserve national interests. In 1960, Congress proposed the Twenty-third Amendment to give D.C. residents the vote in presidential elections, and it was ratified in 1961. However, D.C. residents remain the only U.S. citizens who pay federal income taxes and have no voting representation in Congress.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.