West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner visited Davis & Elkins College to address citizens of American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Rhododendron Girls State. Emphasizing that no one should ever take for granted their right to vote, Warner provided a history of voting rights starting with the 1700s when only property owners age 21 or older could cast a ballot to 1971 when the age limit was lowered to 18.
Actor Lee Dean, portraying U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., took the stage to give an account of how the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution came into being. At the start of World War II, the military draft age was lowered from 21 to 18, sending men into combat before they were of legal age to make their voices heard at the polls. Recognizing this, Randolph introduced legislation in 1943 to lower the voting age. His attempt failed, and over the next 29 years he continued the fight. After 11 tries, Congress passed the legislation in 1971 giving 18-year-olds the right to vote.
Davis & Elkins College and Randolph County play a significant role in the history of the 26th amendment. Ella Mae Thompson Haddix was a student at D&E helping out in the admissions office when a representative from Randolph’s office called to see if any students would be interested in registering to vote. Haddix was especially interested. Her brother, Sgt. Robert Thompson, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965. He was killed two years later in Vietnam without ever having the right to vote.
Randolph arrived on campus and drove Haddix to the Randolph County Courthouse where she was the first 18-year-old in the United States to register to vote.
The message from Warner and Dean served as a reminder to never accept defeat.
American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Rhododendron Girls State continues its virtual session through Thursday, June 17. An in-person inauguration ceremony and recognition of Girls State citizens will take place Friday, June 18 in Harper-McNeeley Auditorium in Myles Center for the Arts.