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On This Day: 23rd Amendment Ratified, Granting District of Columbia Vote in Presidential Election

March 29, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On March 29, 1961, the 23rd Amendment was ratified, granting residents of the District of Columbia to vote for electors in presidential elections for the first time.

District of Columbia Voting Rights

The Constitution granted each state the right to choose electors for the presidential election and to elect representation for the House of Representatives and the Senate. The District of Columbia, however, is a federal territory that since 1801 has been under the control of the U.S. Congress. It did not, therefore, have the same rights as states, including the right to vote in federal elections. 

In June 1960, Congress approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the district to take part in presidential elections. It fixed the number of electors for the district to the number awarded to the smallest state, which was and remains three. 

The amendment was ratified in just over nine months, the second fastest ratification of an amendment. It was supported everywhere but the South, where only one state—Tennessee—ratified it. A March 1961 article in The New York Times explained that Southern leaders feared “the district’s 54 per cent Negro population would reduce Southern political power that much more at national conventions.” 

Though the amendment allowed the district to partake in the presidential elections, it did not grant the district representation in Congress. In 1978, Congress passed an amendment for the District of Columbia to “be treated as though it were a State,” with full representation in Congress. The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment was ratified by just 16 of the necessary 38 states before expiring.

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