by Susan Straus
I recently attended a virtual event held by the Chicago Chapter of the National Organization for Women with guest speaker Anne Jamieson, President of the League of Women Voters. Jamieson gave us the background of expanding the vote. After the early suffragist fight, men and women regardless of color had won the right to vote, but then you had to be 21 to be eligible to cast a ballot.
Jamieson explained, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote," was at the root of the of the argument for the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. When President Lincoln called for a draft, it caused protests across the nation including the Draft Riots of 1863 in New York City. After the Civil War, the draft was discontinued. During WWI, President Wilson reintroduced the draft, which ended after that war. Then, the first peace time draft was called by President Roosevelt in 1940. In 1942, Jennings Randolph, "The father of the 26th Amendment," a Democratic politician from West Virginia, first introduced a bill to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. Even though the 26thAmendment had wide support, it still took the Viet Nam War protests during the 1960’s to again push the argument, "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote," for the 26th Amendment finally to be ratified, and become part of the U.S. Constitution in 1971.
After Jamieson’s presentation, a Q and A followed. The main questions dealt with the percentage of younger people voting and why younger people were not more engaged in the voting process. Some of the reasons were the same voter suppression tactics affecting older voters are now being faced by younger voters, such as voting polls that were difficult to access, and picture ID's that were being required. Political parties have not engaged younger population as a class. The highest percentage of younger voters was 55 percent in 1972, the first year this demographic could exercise the right to vote. Some of the issues that the younger voters care about are: environmental issues, gun control and the high interest on student loans. If the candidates show how they will address these issues, hopefully this year we will see more younger voters casting their ballots.