Expanding Voting Rights

Jennings Randolph was born in 1902 in a small town in West Virginia. Both his father and grandfather were mayors of his hometown. When he graduated from college, he spent some time in journalism and higher education, but public service was his calling.

After an initial election loss, he was elected to the Seventy-third Congress and served in the next six Congresses. He then moved to the U.S. Senate where he served over a span of 27 years.

Perhaps the major highlight of the Senator’s career was his expansive view of citizenship. He supported the Civil Rights Acts of 1960, 1964, and 1968. He was an advocate for the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which eliminated the poll tax and other taxes which restricted the right to vote. He also supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which prohibited discrimination in voting.

Senator Randolph was best known for his dogged persistence in gaining voting rights for those in the age range of 18-21. He began his fight in 1942 arguing that young soldiers fighting for our nation in World War II should have the right to vote. After the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not pass laws affecting voting eligibility in state elections, he started working on an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting voting rights in state and federal elections. It took 11 tries to get the Amendment through Congress. Once approved by Congress, it only took 107 days for enough states to ratify the 26th Amendment.

Other notable achievements of Senator Randolph’s career were:

  • Support for the Civil Rights Amendment, even though he did not agree with many of the activists for the Amendment
  • Giving blind people preference in federal contracts for food service jobs
  • Creation of the Civil Aeronautics Authority which regulated airline fares and routes
  • Creation of the Civil Air Patrol and the National Air and Space Museum
  • Creation of the concept for a U.S. Institute of Peace.

The name Jennings Randolph is virtually unknown today. But try to imagine a member of Congress serving today who has a similar record of accomplishments. Hidden heroes have values and principles that guide their work. They also have the ability to reach agreements with others. Those are traits that are becoming more and more rare.

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“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.” – Section 1 of the 26th Amendment

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