A big change was made in the voting laws of the United States in 1970. In March of that year, Senator Ted Kennedy testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments. He spoke in favor of lowering the voting age in national elections from 21 to 18. He said that young people in 1970 were better educated than they had been in the past. In 1920, only 17% of citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 were high school graduates. But by 1970, that had increased to 79%. Kennedy also said that lowering the voting age would be an incentive for young people to increase their political involvement. Another of Kennedy’s reasons was the large percentage of soldiers who were under 21. That included about 30% of American forces in Vietnam, and almost half of those killed in action. Kennedy was not alone. 73 Senators agreed with him.
In the last session of 1970, the Supreme Court took up the matter of lowering the voting age for national elections. Justice Hugo Black was the deciding fifth vote. The court ruled that the Federal Government could lower the voting age for Federal elections, but could not mandate a lower age for state and local elections.
This left North Dakota in a dilemma. On this date in 1970, an article in the Bismarck Tribune noted that voters had refused to lower the voting age to 19 in 1968. North Dakota Secretary of State Ben Meier said that a lower federal age would require the state to issue separate ballots. One ballot would contain the national candidates and be available to voters between the ages of 18 and 21. A separate ballot would be for state and local candidates for voters 21 and older. Meier noted that North Dakota did not require voter registration, so the state had no way to know the ages. Consequently, the state did issue separate ballots for national elections and require voters to show ID. But that changed in 1978 as the state followed the national example, lowering the voting age to 18.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.
Bismarck Tribune. “Separate Ballots?” 21 December, 1970.
Office of the Secretary of State of North Dakota. Conversation. 11/23/2015