WHICH RIGHTS WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Our individual power is derived from the Constitution. Our most cherished rights are contained in the Bill of Rights. What if you were asked to exercise your power by voting to reduce the Bill of Rights from 10 to 5? Which rights would you get rid of? Why? Give it a try.....
The following rights should be saved:
Group work: After deciding which rights to save, work in groups to discuss choices. Have each group come to a consensus and then choose a group reporter to announce results. Tally up the results from all groups and see which rights you would save.
STUDENTS TALK BACK
Here are the results of last week's question "Should convicted felons be allowed to vote?"
Here's some feedback:
"With such poor voter turnout at the polls, we need all the votes we can get."
"Convicted felons have rights just like any other group of people."
How old is old enough: Vietnam and voting rights
Today, when much is made of youth voter apathy, few remember that 30 years ago 18- to 21-year-olds did not have the right to vote. The year was 1971, a conflict raged in Vietnam and violent protests threatened to divide the United States over our role in that conflict. Yet out of this troubled time in our nation's history came an important result - the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution that lowered the voting age to 18.
While the debate over Vietnam raged, Congress engaged in a debate about whether 18- to 21-year-olds should have the right to vote. The connection between the Vietnam War and the movement to lower the voting age to 18 was not a surprise. Many Constitutional scholars identified a correlation between increased activity by the armed services and introduction of legislation to lower the voting age. Since the beginning of World War II, every Congress had proposed a Constitutional Amendment to lower the voting age to 18.
The United States' involvement in Vietnam brought the debate to a new level. Suddenly young Americans were protesting against the war and challenging laws that drafted young men to fight in a war in which they had no say. According to Department of Defense statistics, 983,000 of the 3.5 million members of the armed forces were under 21, and almost half of the American service men that died in the Vietnam War were under 21.
While America's youth were fighting in Vietnam, or against it, Congress was taking serious steps to reduce the age for eligible voters to 18 in an effort led by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. During a floor debate he said, "As far as the age of 21 is concerned, it has been fully arbitrary and of no realistic value, in my opinion, in light of the intelligence, the idealism, and the educational achievement of the youth of today...the youngsters today are being discriminated against just as the women were until a few decades ago."
Senator Birch Bayh made the case for consistency. "If we are concerned about due process and equal protection, we have to be concerned about the fact that half of the young men who die in Vietnam are not old enough to vote. All of them, and all young people, pay taxes; they are tried in our courts; and yet they do not have a voice in shaping policy." In addition, 18-year-olds were legally able to marry, drive, own a gun and consume alcohol. A common theme at anti-war protests was "if they're old enough to fight, they're old enough to vote." Sen. Mansfield seemed to share their view in saying, "At 18,19 and 20 young people fight our wars. I think they have earned the right to vote."
As it would turn out, the majority of Congress and the American people would agree that the age should be lowered. Opinion polls at the time showed between 60 and 80 percent of the people favored lowering the voting age to 18.
Yet there were opponents of lowering the voting age. University of Florida Professor William Carleton summed up the opposition's view that those under 21 were immature, idealistic and easily influenced by saying "youngsters have not yet assimilated their educational experience; they have not yet discovered their true values and real interests; they have not yet fused their secondary experience with an actual worldly one; and until such fusion is made, vicarious experience is likely to remain experimental, tentative, and untrustworthy."
Some were concerned about the power it would give young voters. New Hampshire Attorney General Warren Rudman said, "Students lack practical knowledge of community affairs. It is unfair to have a town's future determined by a new group every four years." And unlike Richard Nixon, who supported lowering the age for voter eligibility, Harry Truman thought it made more sense to raise the voting age to 25 than to lower it to 18.
Ultimately the major debate would not be over the merits of lowering the voting age, but whether it would be done statutorily through a law passed by Congress or by a Constitutional Amendment ratified by the states. The Senate proceeded on a legislative course by amending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to include a provision that lowered the voting age to 18. Despite the controversy over changing what had been viewed as a state prerogative since 1787, the amendment passed and subsequently became law.
That, however, is not the end of the story. Given the Constitutional significance of this action by Congress, the law was immediately challenged and reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. In the case, Oregon v. Mitchell, the Supreme Court found that Congress acted within its power to lower the voting age to 18 for federal elections, but did not have jurisdiction to lower the age for state and local elections.
Faced with the prospect of having to implement two different election systems, a Constitutional Amendment was passed shortly after the Supreme Court decision and sent to the states for ratification. On July 5, 1971, the 26th Amendment of the United States Constitution was declared ratified. Today, "The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age" is the law of our nation.
18-year-old-voters: The rest of the story
Just in time for the 1972 Presidential Election, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, providing the right to vote to 18- to 21-year-olds. There were many predictions about the effect this new voting block would have both then and in the future. But it seems that this potentially potent political force never came to be.
The 26th Amendment added 10 million new eligible voters thereby increasing the overall number of eligible voters by 8 percent. In college communities like Cambridge, Mass. student voters could make up over one-third of the voters.
It was the power of college student voters that then New Hampshire Attorney General Warren Rudman feared. "Take a town where students outnumber townspeople 2 to 1. Students could pass bond issues, increase teachers' salaries, and vote new libraries." Those issues may not sound so horrible, but his concern was the bill for these initiatives would extend well beyond the average college student's residency.
Those fears never came to pass. In 1972, 50 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds voted. That is the good news. According to research by the National Association of Secretaries of State, voter turnout has steadily declined since then. In 1992, only 32 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. Unfortunately those numbers are worse for Vermont where only 26 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted.
With such high hopes for our youngest voters unrealized, perhaps we should look at the wisdom of having reduced the age. Perhaps responsible citizenship occurs later in life, say 25 as Harry Truman suggested. What do you think? Can we be doing something to inspire the next generation of voters? What can you do to help address this problem? The answers lie with you and your community. Kids Voting helps bring democratic participation alive in your community. Kids are Voting...Are You?
more information on Kids Voting Vermont,
One Vote Counts
In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control over England.
In 1649, one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed.
In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German.
In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union.
In 1868, one vote saved impeached President Andrew Johnson from removal.
In 1875, one vote changed France from a monarchy to a republic.
In 1876, one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency of the United States.
In 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler leadership of the Nazi party.
In 1960, President Kennedy was elected by 120,000 votes or one vote per precinct.
This is part one
of a five-part series. To receive free papers for your classroom, call 1-800-427-3126.
Limit 25 papers per class. Supply is limited.