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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 26th Amendment reduced the voting age for eligible American citizens from 21 to 18.

What many people don’t know is that, in November 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt reduced the military draft age from 21 to 18 to bolster troop support for the American military during World War II. Rep. Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., was a young congressman at the time. It was Randolph who first said, “If you’re old enough to fight and die for your country, then you are old enough to vote.”

The idea of reducing the voting age in 1942 was met with resistance on Capitol Hill. And year after year, Randolph would fail to get the support he needed from his colleagues in Congress to pass a resolution.

In 1958, Randolph was elected to serve West Virginia in the U.S. Senate. Again, he introduced the 26th Amendment, and again he met resistance among his colleagues. The Vietnam War was raging during the 1960s. Nightly news televised the atrocities of war as public sentiment against U.S. involvement in Vietnam continued to grow.

It wasn’t until March 23, 1971, that Randolph was able to use that public sentiment to get the bipartisan support he needed for the amendment to pass Congress. On March 24, the 26th Amendment was sent to the states for ratification.

On April 28, 1971, West Virginia ratified the 26th Amendment, becoming the 27th state to do so. On July 1, 1971, North Carolina became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, garnering the three-fourths of the states required for the amendment to become law.

What took Randolph 29 years to get approved through Congress only took 100 days to get ratified by a vote of state legislatures.

The first 18-year old registered to vote was selected by Randolph. Today, Ella Mae Thompson Haddix, a retired school teacher, lives in Randolph County. Her brother, Sgt. Robert Thompson, was drafted into the U.S.Army in 1965. He was killed in Vietnam on May 23, 1967, not ever having the right to vote.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment, I have declared April 28 as “West Virginia Young Voter Registration Day.” I want to invite every public and private high school in West Virginia to host a voter registration drive for your eligible students. I’m asking parents of young voters to encourage your sons and daughters to register. Any eligible voter may now register online anytime at www.GoVoteWV.com.

It is important for our young voters to know about Sen. Randolph and the fight for the 26th Amendment. Civic engagement at every age is important to our state, our country and our democracy.

Mac Warner is West Virginia’s secretary of state.

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