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The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution

Article I, Section 4

The Text

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall [be on the first Monday in December,]4 unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

4Changed by Amendment XX

Section 4 – The Meaning

Article I, Section 4, gives state legislatures the task of determining how congressional elections are to be held. For example, the state legislature determines scheduling of an election, how voters may register and where they may cast their ballots.

Congress has the right to change state rules and provide national protection for the right to vote. The first federal elections law, which included prohibitions on false registration, bribery and reporting false election returns, was passed after the Civil War to enforce the ban on racial discrimination in voting established by Amendment XV. With the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Congress extended protection of the right to vote in federal, state and local elections.

As a general rule, Congress determines how frequently it will meet. The Constitution provides only that it meet at least once a year. Amendment XX, Section 2, now provides that the first meeting of Congress begin at noon on Jan. 3 of each year, unless the members specify differently.