Charleston, W.Va. — The state of West Virginia played a unique role in the 1971 passage of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reduced the voting age from 21 to 18. Current WV Secretary of State Mac Warner is announcing a statewide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Amendment and the 29-year effort to get it passed.
In November 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the U.S. Army faced an intense need for more soldiers for the WWII effort. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order, reducing the military draft age from 21 to 18.
At that time, Harrison County-native Jennings Randolph served West Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives. Randolph insisted that if the draft age was reduced to 18, then the voting age should be as well.
"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 legislation 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, now Senator Randolph 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 officially signed into law by President Richard Nixon on July 5, 1971.
On Monday, March 1, Warner will announce the kick-off of a year-long effort to celebrate the 26th Amendment. He will be a guest presenter for the annual "Women's & Girl's Day at The Legislature" event. This year, the event will be held virtually. Information on how to view the presentation can be found on the WV Women's Commission website.
The WV Secretary of State's Office proudly hosts the prestigious Jennings Randolph Award, an annual Award that recognizes high schools which register at least 85% of their eligible seniors to vote. Each year, about 40 of the state's 220 public and private high schools earn the designation. This year, Warner challenges students to double the amount of award-winning high schools to 80 in celebration of the 26th Amendment's passage.
Warner's office has already started working with high schools throughout the state to commemorate the anniversary. He is challenging student leaders and high school teachers to work with their local county clerk to host voter registration drives and to discuss the importance of civic engagement. Warner and his staff are also developing a "Speakers Bureau" for interesting online class discussions.
Speakers will also be provided to civic groups and college organizations interested in learning more about the 26th Amendment.
On March 23, Warner will invite legislators, dignitaries and the media to join him in the kick-off of the state's commemoration. On that date, Warner will present the first-ever John Lewis Youth Leadership Award to a very deserving West Virginian. The National Association of Secretaries of State hosts the award.
Those who wish to participate in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment are encouraged to like the commemoration's Facebook page.
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