Statehood, the District of Columbia, and the Twenty-Third Amendment

There’s a renewed effort for statehood for the District of Columbia in the new Democratic-controlled House, and H.R. 51 is the proposal to do so. (DC’s non-voting representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has snagged bill #51 as a symbolic gesture in the past, too.)

I’d recently wondered about whether electors of the District of Columbia could cast votes for presidential and vice presidential candidates who resided in the District. As you may know, the Twelfth Amendment requires that electors cast two votes, one for president and one for vice president, “one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves .”

DC isn’t a state, but the Twenty-Third Amendment gave DC presidential electors. So, could DC electors vote for an all-DC ticket? No, due to a clever phrase in the Amendment: “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.” (Emphasis added.) In other words, whatever parts of the Constitution refer to “state” in the context of presidential electors? Those apply to DC’s electors, too.

But back to H.R. 51. The bill, like many bills, excises several blocks from the District when creating a new state. Those blocks are still the seat of government of the United States, and not a part of the state. So a bill like H.R. 51 would create a new state out of the old District, but it would basically split the District into two: new-state-District, and seat-of-government-district. The seat-of-government-district being quite small, essentially residuals made up of several federal buildings and the like.

Of course, the Twenty-Third Amendment comes back into play: “The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct.” So if DC becomes a state, it gets two Senators, at least one Representative, and at least three presidential electors. But the residual district—remember, just a few federal buildings carved out—is constitutionally entitled to presidential electors. No more than a few dozen people may live in this new seat of government—after all, the residences of DC have been put into the new state.

A little Googling revealed this point has been raised before. That is, before DC can become a state, it ought to be conditioned on a repeal of the Twenty-Third Amendment, lest an anomalous residual set of a few federal buildings is entitled to a slate of presidential electors. That hasn’t been a point of emphasis, of course—getting popular support for statehood for DC is a high hurdle, and the first one that must be surmounted—but it struck me as notable.