The historically pro-gun Florida state legislature is considering several bills implementing certain gun control measures after students flooded the State Capitol to demand action. Most are from the high school in Parkland where 17 died in a campus shooting last week.
Meanwhile, other students along with parents and teachers attended a White House listening session, while hundreds of teens protested outside. News reports indicate the president and Congress are taking preliminary steps toward specific regulations. Pundits describe it as “unprecedented.”
With a clear mission, teenagers from across the country are exerting a level of influence with state and national lawmakers that shouldn’t be minimized.
Perhaps their participation in the political process will prove sporadic or short-lived. Time will tell. However, this comes as several election-year articles have been published examining what political direction the next generation of Americans might take. In Texas at least, some see trends suggesting the Democratic Party will gradually gain ground as time takes its toll on older Republicans and less conservative 18-year-olds begin casting their ballots. Again, time will tell.
I can remember when 18-year-olds couldn’t vote. After I got my draft card when I turned 18, I waited three more years to vote. Then, just four weeks before I turned 21, 18-year-olds got the vote. Born too soon, I guess.
According to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Congress proposed the 26th Amendment on March 23, 1971. It was ratified by the required three-fourths of the states and went into effect July 1 that year.
Since 1789, voting was traditionally limited to white, male, property-owning citizens at least age 21. Gradually, constitutional guarantees of voting rights were added for segments of the population previously disqualified, until those ages 18 to 20 were added in 1971.
The time between March 23 and July 1 is an extremely short period for something as significant as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to win approval. Indeed, that’s the fastest any amendment has been ratified.
Compare this to the 27th Amendment, which delays laws affecting Congressional salaries until after the next election of representatives. First submitted for ratification in 1789, seven months after the Constitution went into effect, the amendment languished for more than two centuries before being added in 1992.
While the 1971 voting age ratification came in record time, support for it had been building for years. The strongest argument was offered by those who were deemed too young to vote in elections but still old enough to fight to protect our freedoms.
Congress tried to lower the voting age with legislation, but the law was ruled unconstitutional. Congress responded with a measure sending a Constitutional amendment to the states for ratification.
Passage of that law which was knocked down, and then the amendment proposal, occurred because many in Congress did something that few of their successors might be inclined to do these days — vote against their own self-interest. They agreed to extend voting privileges to millions of citizens that included many who likely wouldn’t vote for them.
I don’t know how often citizens under the voting age have been able to influence public policy. But I do know that citizens who can vote, and don’t, have squandered their best chance to have a voice.
Early voting in the Texas primary elections is under way. Every eligible voter would serve their country well if they would study the ballot in its entirety, and vote.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.