The issue has promoted no bitter debates, no bloody riots, not even a noisey crusade. President Eisenhower's proposal for amending the Constitution to lower the voting age to 18 is favored generally by politicians of both parties, but present voters and potential voters seems to be unexcited about the whole affair.
Traditionally the suffrage line has been drawn arbitrarily at age 21 as the reasonable demarcation between adolescence and adulthood. Many political observers now maintain that 18 rather than 21 is a more reasonable dividing point, at least as far as political participation is concerned. As publicity increases no doubt the sentimental arguments "old enough to fight, old enough to vote" will gain much popular supper. But University faculty members who have long studied various aspects of political behavior, generally offer more incisive arguments in favor of extending the suffrage.
At issue is not whether the new young voters will affect relative party strength--most observers agree they will not--but whether 18, 19 and 20-year-old people are mature enough to cast their ballots wisely.
Advocates assert that the extention will positively benefit the democratic process by (1) getting the American people first interested in political questions when they are at their height of intellectual activity, and (2) using increased college political activity as a bridge over which more qualified people will enter politics, full time and part time.
A recent New York Times poll reveals that, of those Senators reached, 45 favored lowering the age qualification, 11 opposed it and 30 were undecided. The same poll showed 29 state governors for, 7 against, and 12 undecided. Senatorial supporters include William F. Knowland (R-Cal), Wayne Morse (Ind-Oregon), Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn), Homer Ferguson (R-Mich) and Francis Case (R.S.D.). The political views of those particular gentlemen are frequently in conflict.
A bill to amend the Constitution has been reported favorably by the Sonata Judiciary Committee and is expected to reach a floor vote within the next few weeks. Senator John F. Kennedy '40 (D-Mass) reports that to date there seems to be little interest in this legislation in Washington. Kennedy told the CRIMSON that he would prefer several states to take the initiative and try voting at 18 before a Federal amendment is attempted. He added, however, "When the amendment is presented for vote on the floor of the Senate, I will vote for it."
Senator Leverett Saltonstall '14 (R-Mass) also said he would "prefer to leave voting questions up to the states." Saltonstall indicated to the CRIMSON that he was still undecided on how he will vote on the issue. "Very frankly, I want to hear the debate." He added, "Odds are that the amendment will go through the Senate."
Georgia is the only state to allow 18 year olds the vote. It has done so since 1943 and finds the change very satisfactory.
Last month the Mississippi senate killed a proposed amendment to its constitution, arguing that the change would increase the Negro vote. In contrast, Gov. James F. Byrnes of South Carolina and Gov. Christian A. Herter '15 of Massachusetts have recommended that their legislatures start constitutional amending procedures to permit lowering the age. And Adlai Stevenson, when he was running for the Illinois Governorship in 1948, also advocated the 18 year old vote.
The CRIMSON recently polled 152 College students. Most of these students admitted they haven't given muck thought to the question. Eighty-two favored lowering the voting age, 70 were opposed. Of the 82 in favor of the change, 52 thought that Congress was right in taking the initiative 30 thought the states should not individually. If given the vote, 80 said they would vote Democratic in national elections, 62 leaned toward the Republicans, and 10 were undecided.
3 Suffrage Extentions
Most political pressure groups, like the League of Women Voters, have taken no stand on the issue. Veterans organizations seem generally to favor a Constitutional amendment, but they have not begun active tub-thumping as yet. Remarkable for its absence is the militancy that marked three previous extensions of suffrage in the United States.
The first important suffrage extention was to eliminate property holding and taxpaying qualifications for manhood suffrage. Although the American Revolution was followed by a lowering of property qualifications it wasn't until the rise of Jacksonian democracy that such qualifications were largely swept away and with them much of the power of the early American aristocracy.
Fear of the propertyless masses in eastern cities prompted arguments like the following which was expressed at the Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1837.
"But, Sir, what does the delegate propose? To place the vicious vagrant, the wandering Arabs, the Tartar hordes of our large cities on the level with the virtuous and good man? . . . These Arabs steeped in crime and vice, to be placed on a level with industrious population is insulting and degrading to the community. . . . I hold up my hands against a proceeding which confers on the idle, vicious, degraded vagabond a right at the expense of the poor and industrious portion of the commonwealth."