The GOP Once Supported the Youth VoteRoundup
tags: Republican Party, political history, Voting, youth vote, 26th Amendment
After millions of young Americans turned out in historic numbers to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm elections, GOP politicians and the right-wing media criticized them.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) disparaged both Democrats and young people with his comment that Democratic leaders governing as “whacked-out lefty nut jobs” had “excited young voters who came out in massive numbers.” Fox News’s Jesse Watters joined in. “And the fact that these youth voters are coming in so strong in an off year is very concerning. … This new generation is totally brainwashed.” A few extreme right-wing commentators went even further, calling for raising the voting age.
This dismissive response to young Americans exercising their right to vote in 2022 betrays a long tradition of GOP support for youth voting rights, both before and after the adoption of the 26th Amendment. Passed and ratified in 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 and prohibited discrimination in voting “on account of age.” Republicans on the local, state and federal levels played leading roles in this achievement.
Over three decades, Republicans old and young worked in close alliance with Democrats to lower the voting age to 18. They did so for principled and pragmatic reasons. They were dedicated to a more inclusive American democracy through expanded voting rights, and they knew that GOP candidates could win the youth vote.
In fact, it was a Republican, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, who first proposed a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age. During World War II, when the government dropped the draft age to 18, he argued it should lower the voting age to match. The “privilege of the ballot,” he asserted, should be extended to the same men “who would be inducted into the fighting forces.”
Within days, several of Vandenberg’s colleagues in both houses of Congress, including Jennings Randolph (D-W.Va.), introduced their own amendments. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” became a bipartisan argument for youth voting rights.
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