How many electoral college votes would the District of Columbia be entitled to if the least-populous-state-cap did not apply? What process is used to determine this alternate maximum value?

The 23rd amendment defines the number of electoral college votes as the minimum of two values:

  1. The number of electoral college votes given to the least populous state
  2. The number of electoral college votes that would be given to DC if it were a state.

Computing (1) seems straightforward. I think the way it works is that the census tally for the number of inhabitants of each state is fed to the Huntington-Hill algorithm to determine the number of representatives each state is entitled to in the House. And then the number of EC votes is just the number of senators plus the number of representatives.

Computing (2) does not seem straightforward. The Huntington-Hill algorithm produces an allocation for a collection of states as a whole. The number of people per representative can vary wildly states. I don't know how to extend the allocation counterfactually to the District of Columbia given only its population.

My guess, based on an extremely superficial reading of the 23rd amendment is that the District of Columbia is entitled to the minimum of 3 (2+1) and the number of EC votes it would have if it were a state and the entire House of Representatives allocation were re-computed.

If I had to write a program to determine how many votes the District of Columbia is entitled to, I would to the following:

  1. Compute the House of Representatives allocation for the 50 states. Call the minimum value m.
  2. Compute the House of Representatives allocation for the 50 states ∪ {the District of Columbia}, i.e. the allocation for a hypothetical world where DC is a state. Call the number of representatives assigned to DC d.
  3. DC is entitled to 2 + min(d, m) votes.

In practice, this cap doesn't apply because there are some states that only have one representative such as Montana and Wyoming.

That's just my guess though, how is the alternative maximum value for the number of EC votes actually determined?

Text of the 23rd amendment

Section 1. The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the 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.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


1 Answer 1


I'm pretty sure this came up tangentially in another question recently. But the current answer is 3; exactly the same as it has now.

Wikipedia has a handy list of States by population;

Each state's number of votes in the Electoral College is equal to that state's total number of members in the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States Congress.

Currently DC has the number of Elector college votes it would have anyway;

Currently, this caveat is a moot point since DC would only be entitled to one member of the House of Representatives if it were a state, and is more populous than only two of the seven states with a single member in the House since 2013.

If you wanted to get into this more deeply, the whole thing is complicated by the fixed size of the house of representatives and statehood for DC potentially changes the allocation of representatives elsewhere, but it will still end up with 3 EC votes, because it will still end up with 1 Representative because as the quote above says it is smaller than several other states with 1 representative at the moment.

  • Let me clarify. I wasn't asking about what the exact number of EC votes would be right now; I'm asking what process would be used to determine it. Sep 17, 2020 at 15:46
  • 1
    @GregoryNisbet I've added a paragraph, but in short DC's size makes this trivial. There's little point in complex calculation because it's population is smaller than other single representative states. But in the more general situation that I think you're getting at of adding a state of arbitrary size, you might be interested in this article regarding Puerto Rico Which again does the calculation by ordering the states by size and sticking it where it fits.
    – Jontia
    Sep 17, 2020 at 15:52
  • The thrust of my question is how to deal with the general case where the populations of the 50 states and DC are arbitrary. Adding or removing full states of arbitrary size doesn't pose a problem, I think, because the number of representatives is fixed by statute. Adding or removing states may perturb the number of representatives in other states. Sep 17, 2020 at 16:02
  • The problem is that there's no way to predict how it would be handled. The two most obvious cases are 1) Keep current representive number for state the same and increase house size as necessary for new state 2) Keep house size same and redistribute reps as required. Both provide different results in the general case, though probably the same result for DC. But neither of these have to be chosen, more drastic changes to the Senate and House or even the EC itself would be possible, increase/decrease the size of the houses if big changes (adding DC or PR as states) are underway.
    – Jontia
    Sep 17, 2020 at 16:11

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