Hillary Clinton in her speech at Texas Southern University in Houston called for sweeping changes to increase voter participation – expanding voting hours, 20 days of early voting, automatic universal voter registration when a citizen turns 18 and more access to polling places.
She also pulled no punches criticizing Republicans and several of the 2016 presidential candidates for attempting to suppress the vote by putting up roadblocks, especially for the poor and minorities.
My friend, experienced press hand and wise sage, Carl Leubsdorf, wrote a column for the Dallas Morning News on Clinton’s proposals and the rise of voter ID laws. It got me thinking: Would a constitutional amendment giving 18-year-olds the right to vote make it through Congress and the states today?
I seriously doubt it for two reasons.
First, the movement to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 began in World War II when President Franklin Roosevelt lowered the draft age to 18. As a popular slogan of the time asserted: “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”
President Dwight Eisenhower supported it in 1954 but nothing much happened until the 1960s when the Vietnam War was raging and 18-year-olds were being drafted. (More than 2.7 million Americans servedin Vietnam, roughly 650,000 of whom were drafted.) Politicians were having trouble denying this basic right to our servicemen and women.
Another political buddy of mine, Les Francis, was one of the architects of the drive for the vote in the late 1960s, and he described a “confluence of factors” that included a broad bipartisan coalition, the backing of veterans’ groups and labor, a small seed fund set up by the National Education Association, and, importantly, confusing federal and state laws.
The result was a movement that quickly led to congressional approval in March 1971 and state ratification just a few months later. So, the draft of hundreds of thousands of young people to fight in Vietnam and the pressure on elected officials were instrumental in getting the 18-year-old vote passed. But, of course, there is no draft today.
The second reason I doubt it could pass today is that the Republicans would be terrified of extending voting rights to the 18-to 21-year-olds who they believe are far more liberal and Democratic than the electorate at large. The 18-to 29-year-olds in 2012 voted for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 60 percent to 36 percent and made up 19 percent of the electorate. (In 2008, their vote was 66 percent to 31 percent in favor of Obama over McCain.)
It is no wonder that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican politicians are doing everything they can to suppress the youth vote and to prevent college students from voting. Voter fraud isn’t the problem, their party affiliation is!
Of course, no reasonable Republican would argue now in public against the 26th Amendment to the Constitution but given today’s world, without a military draft and the Democratic bent of our young people, I doubt it would get through this Republican Congress. After all, Republicans are doing everything in their power to suppress voter turnout, not increase it.