West Virginia Secretary of State to mark anniversary of 26th Amendment
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Secretary of State has organized a 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1971 passage of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
Secretary of State Mac Warner will invite legislators, dignitaries and the media on March 23 for the kick-off of the state’s commemoration of the amendment. Warner on March 23 also will present the first John Lewis Youth Leadership Award to a deserving West Virginian. The National Association of Secretaries of State hosts the award.
The origin of the 26th Amendment was during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, facing a need for more soldiers, in November 1942 lowered the eligibility age for the draft from 21 to 18. Rep. Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, a native of Harrison County, said the voting age should be lowered to 18 if the draft age was lowered to 18, too.
“If you’re old enough to fight and give your life for your country, then you’re old enough to vote,” Randolph said.
Congress approved Roosevelt’s Executive Order reducing the draft age, but did not reduce the voting age to 18. In response, Randolph introduced the first bill to create the 26th Amendment in February 1943.
“It would take Congressman Randolph 29 years to get enough support to get Congress to approve the 26th Amendment and to send it to the states for ratification,” Warner said. “Randolph never gave up on giving young adults the right to vote.”
In 1971, during the height of the Vietnam War, Randolph, now a U.S. Senator, garnered enough public support to get the 26th Amendment passed through Congress and sent to the states. What took Randolph 29 years to get passed through Congress only took 100 days to ratify.
The West Virginia legislature ratified the Amendment on April 28, 1971. On July 1, 1971, the state of North Carolina became the 38th state to ratify the Amendment, meeting the three-fourths majority required to become part of the Constitution. The 26th Amendment was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on July 5, 1971.
Warner announced the kick-off of a year-long effort to celebrate the 26th Amendment during a March 1 guest presntation for the annual Women’s and Girl’s Day at the Legislature, virtually held this year.
The Secretary of State’s Office also sponsors the Jennings Randolph Award that each year recognizes high schools registering at least 85 percent of eligible seniors to vote. Each year, about 40 of the state’s 220 public and private high schools earn the designation.
This year, Warner challenged students to double the amount of award-winning high schools to 80 in celebration of the 26th Amendment’s passage.
The Secretary of State’s office has started working with high schools to commemorate the anniversary. He is encouraging student leaders and high school teachers to work with local county clerks to host voter registration drives and to discuss the importance of civic engagement.
The office also is developing a speakers bureau for online class discussions, civic groups and college organizations interested in learning more about the 26th Amendment.