D.C.’s First Participation In The Presidential Election – 11/3/1964

US History |


November 3, 1964 was one of the most memorable events for District of Columbia – this was the day that its citizens first got to experience casting their votes for the presidential elections. District of Columbia citizens were awarded the capital right to finally vote for the nation’s commander in chief and vice president positions after the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961. In 1964, most of them voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater during the presidential elections.

The newly formed United States had its temporary center of government first in New York and then moved to Philadelphia in between the years 1776 and 1800. However, the Southern politicians thought the said locations were a little bit far too north for their liking and thus became the subject of disagreement and debate. To finally put an end to this controversy once and for all, the Congress passed a law which permitted the US president at that time, George Washington, to choose a permanent location for the center of government. He selected a portion of undeveloped swampland on the Potomac River which was in between Maryland and Virginia. Washington called the site Federal City. The commissioners, who were in charge of the development of the site, named this Washington as a tribute to the president.

On November 17, 1800, The Congress met in Washington, D.C. for the very first time. While it was an honor to have the center of government located in the area, it did have its drawback – the voting right of the people residing in it were terminated after the area was put under the jurisdiction of Congress.

During this period, voting was observed differently – people did not directly vote for the president or the vice president. They instead get to choose “electors” (people who will be responsible in casting their chosen candidate) - these people were voted on a state-by-state basis. D.C. at that time was not yet considered a state and hence was not able to participate in the national elections. When the 23rd Amendment was passed, D.C. residents were given the right to send electors based on their current population at that time which was over 550,000 in the 61-square-mile D.C., allowing them to have a total of three electoral votes – this was equivalent to the number of electors in America’s smallest state Wyoming. African Americans mostly made up the population in D.C., most of whom voted for Democratic candidates in past presidential elections.

In 1970, D.C. recorded another historic event when Congress gave it the benefit of having one non-voting delegate to the House of Representative. They finally had their first elected mayor and city council with the passage of Home Rule Act in 1973. In 1978, this should have been able to choose its electors, representatives, and senator – a right that was only made available for states – had the proposed amendment that sought for it came through. However, just like the subsequent proposals for its proclamation as a state, this failed to pass. 

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