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Wednesday, 31 May 2006 00:00

Making Jennings Randolph proud

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Jennings Randolph does not leap from the pages of history. Perhaps he should. His likeness is not found on any T-shirts, but perhaps it should be, especially of those graduating from high school.

No, Jennings Randolph was not a founding father, but a 20th century figure. He was a long-time member of Congress from West Virginia, first as a member of the House of Representatives and later a senator. He did something in 1941 that he continued to do methodically for 30 years until he was successful. His photo might be depicted as an example of persistence and/or commitment.

In 1941, U.S. Rep. Randolph introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reduce the voting age for federal elections to 18. As he articulated, if people were old enough to fight for their country, they should be allowed to vote for their leaders. Randolph left the House in 1947, but was elected U.S. Senator in 1959. During every session that he was either a member of the House or Senate, he introduced this amendment — all unsuccessfully — until 1971.

It was quickly passed after his introduction of the amendment in that year, and within months of its passage, it was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures — the fastest of any amendment. President Nixon signed it, as the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on July 1, 1971. A byproduct of this amendment was the lowering of the voting age for state and local elections — the Amendment only addressed Federal Elections.

The bill also led to the lowering, by the states, of the minimum legal age for “consent” and for exercising most adult rights — marrying, executing contracts, etc. — without parental consent. Thus, de facto, the Amendment reduced the legal definition of “adulthood” from 21 to 18 for many matters. Thus, the rights that accrued from this Amendment to the Constitutionwas to afford certain legal rights beyond the right to vote to those 18 to 20-plus years old.

As we reflect on how we can honor those who have served our country — both in uniform and those who served in other capacities to preserve and enhance our freedom, our rights, and our security — a significant act of deference to them would be to register and vote. There is nothing more important in a democracy than voting. We speak of our futures, but the future is determined by the decisions we make now.

The 18 to 24 age group has the lowest registration rate, and of those registered, the lowest voter participation rate. In the 2004 presidential election, 63.8 percent of all those eligible to vote, voted, with citizens 55 and older at 72 percent and those 18 to 24 at 47 percent.

Forty-six point seven percent of males and 46.5 percent of females within the 18 to 24 age group who did not vote stated that they “were not interested in the election or not involved in politics.” Fifteen percent said they “did not know why they did not vote, or just forgot to.” Thus, the poor participation was essentially the same for both genders.

Jennings Randolph and those who have sacrificed on our behalf deserve better.

So, if we really want to honor those who gave so much for our country, then we can do so by exercising our franchise to vote, as again, the future will be decided by actions today. I am confident that those veterans who gave their lives would be pleased with this gesture of honor and remembrance. That is the true sign of being patriotic — being engaged in electing the leaders, at all levels of government.

Yes, we can sing songs, wave flags, shoot off fireworks, pray, and so on. But participating in determining the future of the country is the ultimate act that we can give to those who have gone before. Voting is the ultimate act of patriotism.

As the adage goes, all politics are local, thus become engaged in the local elections this November. They will be important to the county and communities — very important. Educate yourself on the issues, on the candidates, their qualifications and their platforms — then, vote. There is nothing more patriotic and arguably important as that. Many have died so that we can have this and other rights, that we seem to just take for granted.

If you won’t be in town on Election Day, or will have a conflict, you can vote early. There is no good reason not to vote. See you at the polls in November.

(Lee Shelton lives in Maggie Valley and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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