DC Residents Cast First Presidential Votes On This Day in 1964

On November 3, 1964, residents of the District of Columbia cast their ballots in a presidential election for the first time.

The 23rd Amendment, ratified in March 1961, gave citizens of the nation’s capital the right to vote for president and vice president. The amendment reads –


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.


The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Washington, DC has three electoral votes, but only one non-voting delegates in the House of Representatives. The Washington D.C., Statehood Referendum is on the ballot this year.

State Ballot Measures in 2016

According to Ballotpedia, an online encyclopedia of information about politics at all levels of government, in November, there are 154 statewide ballot measures in 35 state. (If you include measures voted on before the November 8 election, that number goes up to 162). 71 of these ballot measures were put on the ballot via citizen initiative rather than by vote of the state legislature.

Measures on the 2016 statewide ballots include the following issues area (many of which are controversial) –

(1) Marijuana 

(2) Gun Control

(3) Minimum Wage

(4) California will vote on a statewide plastic bag ban

(5) Maine will vote on an initiative for a new system of voting

So what are ballot initiatives and referenda and whose uses them?

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, an initiative is

a process that enables citizens to bypass their state legislature by placing proposed statutes and, in some states, constitutional amendments on the ballot. The first state to adopt the initiative was South Dakota in 1898. Since then, 23 other states have included the initiative process in their constitutions, the most recent being Mississippi in 1992. That makes a total of 24 states with an initiative process.

There are both direct and indirect initiative processes. In a direct initiative process, qualifying proposals go directly on the ballot. In an indirect system, the initiative is first submitted to the state legislatures who may act on the proposal. Depending on the state, the initiative question will go on the ballot if the state legislature rejects the proposal, submits a different one, or takes no action. In some states, the legislature may also submit a competing measure that will appear on the ballot alongside the original ballot proposal. States with an indirect process include: Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada and Ohio. In Utah and Washington, there are processes in place for either a direct or indirect ballot initiative process.

A referendum, on the other hand,

is a general term which refers to a measure that appears on the ballot. There are two primary types of referenda: the legislative referendum, whereby the Legislature refers a measure to the voters for their approval, and the popular referendum, a measure that appears on the ballot as a result of a voter petition drive.

What are the differences between legislative and popular referenda?

Legislatures are often required to refer certain measures to the ballot for voter approval. For instance, changes to the state constitution must be approved by voters before they can take effect. Many state legislatures are also required by their state constitutions to refer bond measures and tax changes to the voters. Although this is not always the case, legislative referenda tend to be less controversial than citizen initiatives, are more often approved by voters than citizen initiatives, and often receive higher vote thresholds. Legislative referenda may appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

The popular referendum is a device which allows voters to approve or repeal an act of the Legislature. If the Legislature passes a law that voters do not approve of, they may gather signatures to demand a popular vote on the law. Generally, there is a 90-day period after the law is passed during which the petitioning must take place. Once enough signatures are gathered and verified, the new law appears on the ballot for a popular vote. During the time between passage and the popular vote, the law may not take effect. If voters approve of the law, it takes effect as scheduled. If voters reject the law, it is voided and does not take effect. 24 states have the popular referendum. Most of them are also initiative states.

The map below, provided by Ballotpedia, shows which states use ballot initiatives and referenda.


You can learn more about the history of initiatives and referenda in the United States here.

America’s Mock Election Results for the 2016 Presidential Election

Students around the country took part in a nationwide mock election hosted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Youth Leadership Initiative and America’s Mock Election.

I co-hosted the results show about how the students voted.

Video of the results show is available here. In addition to discussing how the students voted in each state, we also discussed strategies for teaching about the election, the history of voting rights in the United States, and the importance of civics education.

The students who voted in the YLI/America’s Mock Election student mock election overwhelmingly favored Hillary Clinton. Clinton won 51% of the popular vote, while Donald Trump won 31% of the vote.

Scholastic also held a nationwide student mock election, where Clinton also prevailed – winning 52% of the student vote, while her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, received 35%.

It will be interesting to compare the results of these student mock elections with the final election results on November 8.

A Call to Action: Drivers Needed for Carpool2Vote

Last week I blogged about Carpool2Vote. Below is a call to action from the app’s creators. I’m looking forward to using the app to help driver voters in my local community to the polls on Election Day! I hope you’ll consider doing the same.

Can you carpool with someone to vote on November 8th? Do you need a ride to the polls?
This election is too important for anyone to stay home because they couldn’t get to the polls!
Carpool2Vote is the first-ever FREE ride share app to the polls. Now available for download in the App Store (Carpool2Vote).
In just 17 days we will know who the next president of the United States will be. WomenVotes.org needs your help to outreach to women and men across the country to join together to make sure that individuals have a free app to get people to the polls to vote and enough volunteer drivers on general election day.
A call to action is now in progress to recruit drivers from around the country. The call to action is asking for people to volunteer to drive as well as individuals to sign up now to carpool to vote. Since this is a volunteer-based initiative created and developed in America, the more drivers that exist, the more people we can get to the polls.
Free Ride To The Polls: WomenVotes Takes You There – Forbes
Women Votes and #Carpool2Vote are bi-partisan initiatives. To further spread the word, Carpool2Vote is being promoted by AMC Networks Inc., which will support outreach and inspire civic engagement through online support on its corporate website and network websites. AMC Networks Inc. owns and operates several of the most popular and award-winning brands in cable television: AMC, BBC AMERICA, IFC, SundanceTV, and WE tv.

Carpool2Vote: A New App Connecting Volunteer Drivers with Voters in Need of a Ride to the Polls

Women Votes 2016 – a millennial led group – has launched a cool new app called Carpool2Vote that connects volunteer drivers with voters in need of a ride to the polls. Women Votes describes the purpose of this initiative as an effort “to ensure every woman, mom, grandmother (everyone) gets their chance to vote in #Election2016. Who better to help make this happen than ‘women’ who coined the phrase ‘carpool’?”

How to use the Carpool2Vote App:
The Carpool2Vote App is available for free download in the App Store as a public benefit to support voter turnout and help riders with a lift to the polls to cast their ballot in the general election on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 (and beyond).
Step 1: For DRIVERS who are heading to the polls — Simply utilize the apps capability to create a “Trip Profile” and “List” your trip with polling location, vehicle type, seats available, and time.
Step 2: For RIDERS — It’s easy and simple to navigate! Simply “Request a Carpool” by clicking on a vehicle within the map.  You will select the number of seats you will need, and any special accommodations such as wheel chair access, etc.

Step 3: For DRIVERS and RIDERS — Our Carpool2Vote App also ensures the rider is getting in the correct vehicle driven by the correct driver through a very simple authentication solution that’s similar to the way warehouses work. Each driver will be issued a unique barcode based on their license plate and driver’s license.

When the driver’s car arrives, that barcode will be displayed on the driver’s phone, and the rider can quickly take a picture of the driver’s barcode to ensure they are getting into the right vehicle. If the driver is who they should be, the passenger will receive a confirmation sound (beep) and vibration after they “scan.” If the driver is not correct, there will be an alert on the passenger’s phone. 
Step 4: Your vote is your voice! Please show you care by volunteering as a driver, spreading the word, and reaching out to your neighbors and friends to help inspire social and civic engagement.
I just downloaded the app and am looking forward to volunteering to drive voters in Arlington, Va, to the polls on Election Day! Learn more about this great initiative here! And download the app in your App Store today!

In Honor of National Voter Registration Day: A Brief History of Voting Rights in America

In honor of National Voter Registration Day, and in an effort to encourage citizens to not only register to vote ahead of state deadlines but also to vote in this year’s election on Tuesday, November 8, I thought I’d provide some general information here about the history of voting rights in this country.

Let’s begin at the beginning. . .

Voting in Colonial America

The 13 colonies imposed land/property or tax-paying requirements on voters. In their view, only these people were sufficiently committed to their communities to vote.

Many colonies also imposed religious tests on voting, barring Catholics and Jews, for example, from participating in elections. These religious tests would later be repealed.

The American Revolution

The American Revolution was fought, in part, over the issues of voting and representation in Parliament. American colonists rejected the notion of “virtual representation” – the idea that English members of Parliament could represent the interests of the colonists in North America, even though the colonists had no say in electing those representatives. Hence the language in the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed[.]” (emphasis added).

The Abolition of Property Requirements in the 19th Century

The 19th century saw the abolition of property requirements for voting and thus began a new era of universal white manhood suffrage.

Note that during this time, only a few states (like Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and others) allowed African Americans to vote without significant restrictions. In most other places, African Americans – whether slave or free –  could not vote.

Also during this period, women property holders in New Jersey, who had once had the right to vote, now lost it.

The Fifteenth Amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote. It declared the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Although ratified on February 3, 1870, the promise of the 15th Amendment would not be fully realized for almost a century. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, violence, and other Jim Crow-era means, Southern states effectively disenfranchised African Americans during this period. It was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that a majority of African Americans in the South would be registered to vote.


The Nineteenth Amendment

In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams: “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

John Adams responded to his wife’s letter (in a similarly teasing tone) and declared that men were not really the “masters” of women but were “subject to the despotism of the petticoat.” Adams and his contemporaries, like those who preceded them, failed to make codifying women’s rights a priority.

Although the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention of 1848 adopted a specific call for women’s suffrage, it would take an additional 72 years of lobbying and protesting for most women to gain the right to vote.  The amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878, but was not ratified until August 18, 1920.

The Nineteenth Amendment reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an act to enforce the 15th amendment to the United States Constitution, and was signed into law 95 years after that amendment was ratified. In that 95 year period, African Americans in the South faced near insurmountable obstacles to voting, including, literacy tests, poll taxes, a variety of bureaucratic restrictions, intimidation, physical violence and economic reprisal. As a result, there were few registered black voters in the South.

Political protests and reactionary violence in 1964 brought renewed attention to the issue of voting rights for African Americans. In particular, the murder of voting-rights activists in Mississippi and attacks on peaceful marchers in Selma, Alabama, allowed President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Congress to pass the voting rights bill on August 5, 1965.

The legislation outlawed literacy tests and provided for the appointment of federal examiners to help register qualified citizens to vote. By the end of 1965, 250,000 new black voters had been registered, one-third by Federal examiners. By the end of 1966, only 4 out of the 13 southern states had fewer than 50 percent of African Americans registered to vote.

The 24th Amendment and the Abolition of the Poll Tax

At the time of the passage of the 24th Amendment by Congress in 1962, five states (Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas) maintained poll taxes. which disproportionately impacted poor African American voters. The Amendment was ratified in 1964 and reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The 26th Amendment: Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote

The debate over lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 began during World War II and intensified during the Vietnam War, when young men who could not vote and therefore influence war policy were being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War.

In 1970, Congress passed the Voting Rights Acts Amendments, which sought to lower the minimum age of voters in both state and federal elections from 21 to 18. In response, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Oregon v. Mitchell (1970) that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum voting age in federal, but not state and local, elections.

In response to this case and mounting political pressure, Congress passed the 26th Amendment in March 1971. The states quickly ratified the Amendment, which went into effect in July of that year. The 26th Amendment reads:

“The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The fight over voting rights continues

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was amended and reauthorized in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992 and 2006. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder

ruled 5-4 that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional. Section 4 lays out the formulas for how the Justice Department enforces Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires that the states identified with a history of discrimination  obtain approval from the federal government before they can make changes to their election law. Section 4 formulas as of 2013 mandated that “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia in their entirety; and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota” ask for preclearance for electoral law changes. After Shelby County v. Holder, these states are free to make changes to election law or district maps without approval from the Justice Department.

Without Section 4, the Justice Department has fewer legal resources for challenging election law it finds discriminatory.

The Supreme Court found Section 4 unconstitutional because of the age of the coverage formulas. The Supreme Court’s opinion notes: “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.’”

In other words, the Supreme Court is telling Congress, “if you want to keep Section 5, you better make new rules.”

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress has yet to amend the Voting Rights Act in light of the Court’s concerns. Furthermore, many states have enacted laws that shift early voting and voter registration times or impose new voter-ID requirements. Conservatives argue that these laws are designed to counter voter fraud or help shrink stage budgets. Liberals argue that the laws are designed to disenfranchise college students and African Americans, who typically vote in favor of Democratic candidates. There is active litigation over these statutes across the country.

Similarly, there is an ongoing debate over whether convicted felons who have served their time in prison should be allowed to vote. A handful of states bar felons from voting unless they successfully petition to have their voting rights restored.


Presidential Debate Primer: Check out Washington Times Special Section on the President and the Constitution

In honor of Constitution Day this year, I took the lead on behalf of the National Constitutional Literacy Campaign on the publication of a Washington Times special section on the President and the Constitution. The special report includes articles from Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee, among many others.

On the eve of tomorrow night’s presidential debate, I hope folks will consider reading, reflecting, and learning from the public officials, scholars and civic education advocates who submitted articles on this timely topic. It’s a great presidential debate primer.

The full special section is available in PDF form here.

Articles include:

Section 1: Citizens, Civic Knowledge, and Presidential Elections

(1) Julie Silverbrook, Why A Call for Civic Education and Constitutional Literacy?

(2) Julie Silverbrook, Student Competitions Spark Optimism, Civic Involvement

(3) Charles Quigley, Effective Civic Education Produces Informed Voters

(4) Dr. Michael Poliakoff, Civic Illiteracy and Civic Disempowerment

(5) Jeff Hymas, A Democratic or Republican Election? 

(6) Kyle Kondik, ‘Tyranny of the Swing States’?

(7) Meg Heubeck and Gerard Ferri, Get in the Game: Empowering America’s Next Generation to Vote

Section 2: Congress and the President

(1) Congressman George Nethercutt, Founders Intended ‘Tension’ In Co-Equal Branches

(2) Dr. Robert J. Spitzer, Political Gridlock, Past and Present

(3) Senator Patrick Leahy, Constitution Day: Protection Our Democracy

(4) Senator Mike Lee, The Battle to ‘Keep’ the American Republic

(5) Dr. Matthew Spalding, Congress and the New Imperial Presidency

Section 3: The Courts and the President

(1) Elizabeth Wydra, The President, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court

(2) Dr. Louis Fisher, How Courts Expand Presidential Power Beyond Constitutional Limits

(3) Ken Gormley, Presidents and the Supreme Court: Public Battles and Quiet Respect

Section 4: The Media and the President

(1) Julie Silverbrook, The Constitution on the Campaign Trail in 2016

(2) David Keene, the ‘Genius’ of the Constitution 

(3) Janine Turner and Andrew Langer, Is the Media Responsible for the Too-Power Presidency?

(4) Shoshana Weissman, How Social Media Gives Public Opinion Wings

Section 5: The Expansion of Presidential Authority

(1) Tim Donner, The Ever-Expanding Power of the Presidency

(2) Josh Blackman, Unteaching Professor Obama’s Constitutional Lessons

(3) Dr. Jason Stevens, Calvin Coolidge and the ‘two minds’ of the American Presidency

(4) Scott Michelman, Upholding the Right ‘To Be Let Alone’