'Old enough to fight, old enough to vote'

The seeds of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18, were sown during World War II. Thousands of young American men were losing their lives, many of them under the age of 21. Thus, it became fashionable to say, "Well, if they're old enough to fight for their country, they're old enough to vote for their country."

One man, US Sen. Jennings Randolph, fought on Capitol Hill to secure voting rights for 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds. He proposed legislation to amend the Constitution. But 1940s America was not ready to give young people the key to the ballot box.

By the 1960s, the mood of the country had changed. The war in Vietnam was raging, being fought by US soldiers whose average age was 19. The slogan, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote" became popular once again.

Senator Randolph proposed his legislation once more, and this time, the bill passed - unanimously in the Senate, and with only 19 opposing votes in the House. It took exactly 100 days to get the states to ratify it. On July 4, 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the 26th Amendment into law.

"The reason ... new voters will do so much for America at home is that you will infuse into this country some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose, that this nation always needs," President Nixon said.

But three decades after the fight to gain that voting voice was won, many young people take the privilege for granted and frequently ignore it. In 1996, only about one-third of 18- to 20-year-olds voted in the presidential election. That rate is low compared with other age groups.

As a result, politicians, educators, and even MTV have been trying to rouse interest in voting. Congress passed motor-voter legislation in 1993, which lets people register when renewing a driver's license or registering a car. MTV and AT&T have teamed up in the past, giving people the luxury of registering over the phone by dialing 1-800-REGISTER. And a few politicians are even trying to lower the voting age again. There is no mention in the 26th Amendment of those who are under 18.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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