“If they’re old enough for bullets…they’re old enough for ballots!” Sen. Jennings Randolph
February 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph who tenaciously pursued the passage of that Amendment for 29 years will honored posthumously with the Margaret Chase Smith Democracy Award for his efforts in a ceremony at the WV Arts and Culture Center.
Randolph, who began his Federal legislative career in 1933, was a Member of Congress when President Franklin Roosevelt lowered the draft age to 18 by Executive Order during World War II. The stark unfairness of drafting Americans into military service at 18 and yet denying 18- 19 and 20-year-olds the right to cast a ballot for those who would send them to war, prompted Randolph to begin his campaign to lower the voting age. With the rallying cry “old enough to fight…old enough to vote” Randolph would introduce the legislation 11 times. When Congress again enacted the draft during the Viet Nam war and 11 million 18-19-20 year-olds went to war the push to allow those who were dying for their country to choose the leaders who would send them to war gained strength. In 1972 Congress would pass the 26th Amendment overwhelmingly. Randolph’s persistence in championing the legislation would spur his colleagues to dub him “the Father of the 26th Amendment.”
A West Virginia resident was the first 18-year-old to register to vote in the nation. Ella Mae Thompson Haddix was a student at Davis & Elkins College in 1972 and Sen. Randolph personally escorted her to the Randolph County Courthouse where she registered to vote. In the car on the way to the Courthouse, Ella Mae told Sen. Randolph that her brother, Robert Thompson, while not old enough to vote, had died in Viet Nam only one day before he was to return home at the age of 19. Ella Mae, now a retired school teacher, will be present at the Ceremony to honor Sen. Randolph.
Following the passage of the 26th amendments, five million 18, 19 and 20-year-olds registered to vote in 1972. Today, County Clerks throughout West Virginia hold voter registration days at high schools resulting in 67,000 high school seniors being registered to vote in 2021.