Charleston, W.Va. — It took the late U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV) nearly 29 years to get it passed. But Randolph’s persistence paid off in the end when President Richard Nixon signed the 26th Amendment into law on July 5, 1971.
Senator Randolph was Congressman Randolph on November 11, 1942 when then-President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order reducing the military draft age from 21 to 18 years old. At that time and in the height of World War II, the nation’s military branches were in desperate need of additional young men to support the war effort. Congress supported President Roosevelt’s request.
Randolph, the congressman from West Virginia, objected to the reduction in the age that young men could be drafted and forced into military service. Randolph believed that if young men could be drafted into war at the age of 18 that they should also be given the right to vote for (or against) those political leaders making decisions to enter into war. In 1942, only American citizens who were at least 21 years old were permitted to vote.
It was Congressman Randolph who first said on the floor of the House of Representatives that, “if you’re old enough to fight and die for your country, then you’re old enough to vote.”
So in February of 1943, Congressman Randolph authored and then introduced legislation that would create the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The 26th Amendment would guarantee the right to vote to any American citizen that was at least 18 years old. Randolph’s legislation didn’t pass in 1943. It didn’t pass in 1953 or even in 1963. In fact, it took Randolph nearly three decades to get the 26th Amendment passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
Randolph was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962. As a senator, he introduced legislation to create the 26th Amendment on eight different occasions. It wasn’t until during the height of the Vietnam War in 1971 that public support for reducing the voting age caught Congress’s attention. Randolph credited television coverage of the casualties of the Vietnam War on the nightly news for creating enough public sentiment to sway Congress into approving Randolph’s legislation.
On March 23, 1971, both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives passed the 26th Amendment. Congress then sent the legislation to the states for ratification.
On April 28, 1971, West Virginia became the 27th state to ratify the 26th Amendment.
With ratification by the states, then-President Richard Nixon signed the 26th Amendment into law on July 5, 1971, making it an official part of the United States Constitution. To learn more about that signing and to see a short video of President Nixon Certifing the 26th Amendment click here.
And with the stroke of his pen on that date, President Nixon certified the 26th Amendment, thereby granting 11 million 18, 19 and 20 year-olds the right to vote.
To celebrate his leadership in authoring and seeking the passage of the 26th Amendment, the WV Secretary of State’s Office hosts the annual Jennings Randolph Award for West Virginia high schools who register 100 percent of their eligible students to vote. In the 2018-19 school year that just ended, the Secretary of State’s Office worked with all 55 of the state’s county clerks to register 15,673 students to vote – by far, the highest annual total in the 25-year history of the Jennings Randolph Award.
To learn more about the Jennings Randolph Award, visit our website.
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