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The United States Constitution provides the framework and guiding principles for establishing laws and governing the United States of America. Although the founding fathers believed the Constitution to be a solid and timeless guide, they also foresaw the need for additions or changes to the Constitution in the years ahead. As a result, the Constitution itself provides a procedure for change through a constitutional amendment. The 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives the residents of the District of Columbia, or Washington, D.C., the right to vote for electors for the Vice President and President of the United States.
Washington, D.C. holds a unique position in the political geography of the United States. The nation's capital is not a state, but a special district intended to be the seat of the country' s federal government. The Constitution makes a provision for a special district where the nation's capital will be located. One year after the District of Columbia was created, in 1791, a capital city was established and named after George Washington. The city of Washington, along with the surrounding area, are considered one unified entity for governing purposes and are under the direct governance of the federal government.
Because the District of Columbia is not a state, residents were not historically entitled to vote. The founders of the Constitution contemplated the District of Columbia as the seat of the federal government only — not a city in and of itself with residents who were not part of the government. Since its birth in 1790, however, the District of Columbia has grown to include many residents who are not part of the nation's government. Understandably, the residents of D.C. began to campaign for voting rights.
In 1960, the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress. Although the 23rd Amendment does not give residents of the District of Columbia full voting rights as residents of the states have; however, it does give them the right to vote for the Vice President and President of the United States. The Presidential election is actually determined by state electors, who generally vote their electoral votes according to the state's residents' votes.
Electoral votes are determined by the population of the state. The more populous the state, the more electoral votes the state is entitled to in the election. The 23rd amendment allows the District of Columbia the same number of votes as the least populous state in the country at the time of the election.
Since the 23rd Amendment was passed, the issue of voting rights for the residents of the District of Columbia has continued to be a political issue. In 1978, Congress passed the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, which would have superseded the 23rd Amendment by giving the residents full voting rights. The amendment, however, failed to be ratified by the states as required in order to become an amendment to the Constitution.