Guest Commentary: Pass voting age amendment, then clean up other verbiage


Sen. Bryant Richardson is a Republican representing Seaford.

Fifty-two years ago, the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution lowered the legal voting age in the United States from 21 to 18. For unknown reasons, the legal voting age in the Delaware Constitution remained at 21 years old.

To correct this discrepancy, last year, I introduced an amendment in the Senate with support from Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, in the House of Representatives.

After passing unanimously in the House and the Senate during the 151st General Assembly, and after passing unanimously in the Senate this year in the 152nd General Assembly, my amendment lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 in Delaware is now stalled in the House Administration Committee.

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, sent me a note April 26, telling me the amendment was tabled in the House Administration Committee over concerns about some of the language in the section of the Delaware Constitution (Article V) that contains the requested change in age. As far as I can remember, there were not any objections to the amendment during the previous Senate and House hearings.

The Delaware Constitution, written in 1897, contains countless examples of archaic wording. Article V alone, detailing how elections are to be conducted, contains 4,445 words.

I agree that the wording from that time in history is not perfect. My purpose in introducing the amendment was simply to correct the discrepancy in the age, not to comb through and update the wording of all of Article V.

Should I have attempted to rewrite that entire section of the constitution? With my other assignments, that would be unlikely. My other assignments as a senator include participation on the following:

  • Elections & Government Affairs Committee.
  • Labor Committee.
  • Veterans Affairs Committee.
  • Legislative Oversight & Sunset Committee.
  • Bond Committee.
  • Judiciary Committee.
  • Delaware Healthy Mother and Infant Consortium.
  • Delaware Anti-Trafficking Action Council.
  • Prescription Opioid Settlement Distribution Commission.

And I was just named to the School Mentoring and Literacy Task Force.

Going through the wording of Article V to update the language will take attorneys weeks, if not months.

Why not act now to correct the age discrepancy and then assign a team of attorneys to clean up the other language? The long debate over lowering the voting age began during World War II and intensified during the Vietnam War, when young men denied the right to vote were being called to fight for their country.

In the 1970 case Oregon v. Mitchell, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the right to regulate the minimum age in federal elections but not at state and local levels. Amid increasing support for a constitutional amendment, Congress passed the 26th Amendment in 1971. Delaware was one of the first states to ratify that amendment.

When you realize the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution pertains to “federal elections,” does the fact that Delaware’s Constitution has not been changed create a problem for state and local elections, if someone wanted to make it an issue?

We can make this a moot point if the House will pass SB 26, the second leg of this amendment process.

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