November 8, 2017

1967. Momentum Builds for Lowering the Voting Age

The Voting Age Debate
"President Nixon affixes his signature to signify that he witness to the certification of ratification of the 26th amendment of the Constitution of the U.S. 7/5 which gives 18-year-olds the right to vote," June 22, 1970 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

January 17, 1967

There's increasing interest in the new 90th Congress in lowering the voting age. And perhaps this session Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield will be more successful in starting the machinery for a Constitutional amendment which will give the national franchise to American citizens when they reach the age of 18, instead of the present 21-year specification that a US citizen officially is old enough to vote.

Senator Mansfield's basic argument for chopping three years off the voting age is simply that "if a man is old enough to be drafted to pull a trigger for his country as a teenager, then he should be old enough to cast a ballot."

Since some critics charge that the United States is a nation of perpetual adolescents, there is a certain unprovable logic in the argument. At least the most powerful Republican senator in Congress thinks so, for GOP floor leader Everett Dirksen again has joined Mansfield in endorsing the teenage vote proposal.

Actually the political interest in the franchise amendment is rooted in the fact that the nation is getting younger every year. Within a decade or so it may be possible that Democratic or Republican victories will be won on the playing fields of good old Siwash U, or the quadrangle of Poison Ivy Prep, or in the fraternity and sorority houses of Stateside Normal.

Washington professional politicians already have seen the handwriting on the campus dorms. And that's one reason that organizations calling themselves Young Democrats, Young Republicans, and Young Americans for this-or-that are now competing with the protest groups and the beatnik guitar players for collegiate fealties.

The Washington politicos are concerned because, for example, this year alone more than three and a half million young people will become eligible to vote. The number of 21-year-olds this year represents an increase of almost a million new constituents over 1966. The reason, according to the population watchers, is that the post-World War II baby boom is in the process of reaching maturity.

This face of American life has more than just political meaning for the nation. The coming-of-age of such a large group of youth also has a tremendous impact on the economy.

A recent survey by The New York Times points out that 1967 should be a big year for the nation's marriage license bureaus—which means big business for the makers of confetti, wedding rings, for the owners of small resort hotels and cookbook publishers. It should be an active year of family formation and all that goes with it, meaning a high turnover in the furniture and home appliance industry, and boom times for the makers of those millions of silver candlesticks and serving dishes passed off as wedding gifts.

However, every silver cloud has a dampened lining, and the sociologists also point out that for the first time in twenty years, 1967 will also be the year when fewer children will be entering the first grade of the nation's schools than the year before. That baby boom some twenty years ago was followed by a population drop as the nation stopped celebrating its victories and adjusted to peacetime living.

This will be of some concern to the baby food, playpen, and diaper industry—but not to Washington's politicians.

They're still intent on legalizing that big bloc of votes waiting to be plucked from the 18, 19, and 20-year-olds. And before long they might just get it done.

This is Bill Downs for ABC in Washington.