Proposed bill aims to fix Delaware Constitution’s voting age discrepancy

DELAWARE – Law is quirky. Take one Rehoboth Beach code for example: it’s actually a punishable offense to whisper within 300 feet of a church service. It’s also illegal to pass off margarine as butter in Delaware. And, you have to be 21 years old to vote, according to Delaware’s Constitution.

“Time to revisit”

“I think it’s just time to revisit this. Let’s make sure that everyone understands that the Delaware law may say that an 18-year-old has the right to vote. But, let’s make sure that the Constitution and the law say the same thing,” said Representative Ruth Briggs King. “A few years ago, looking at different things in the Constitution, it was like, well it doesn’t state in here that the 18-year-old has the right to vote.”

Back in 1971, Congress amended the U.S. Constitution to drop the voting age from 21 to 18. Funny enough, Delaware ratified the amendment the same day. But, the change never made it into Delaware’s highest law book.

Rep. Briggs King and other lawmakers are now trying to change that through Senate Bill 26.

“You would think it’s something you would do naturally when the laws changed, or when we changed the Delaware law. The companion to that would be to change the Constitution,” said Rep. Briggs King.

Symbolic, Yet Impactful

Constitutional scholar, and Delaware State University political science professor Dr. Samuel Hoff says back then, the call for change was lifted by those optimistic about increasing graduation rates. This was all happening, as young men faced the possibility of being sent to the front lines of warfare.

“The draft that was enforced through the late 60’s into the 70’s started at 18. So, the slogan was if you can fight, you should be able to vote,” said Dr. Hoff.

While this change would be fixing a technicality, it could be one that proves to be very important, says Dr. Hoff.

“It is symbolic. However, we hope we have an impact on voters, since we sort of point the finger at the 18- to 24-year-old folks and say they’re the lowest group in terms of turnout,” said Dr. Hoff.

Looking Ahead

Past iterations of the law were introduced in previous Delaware General Assembly sessions. However, Rep. Briggs King says it died during floor debate because lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement on amendments to the bill. This time around, she says she’s much more confident about the bill’s chances of passing.

“Just making sure everything is consistent across the board, I think, sends a strong message as to the intent that everyone has for 18-year-olds to be full citizens with the right to vote,” said Rep. Briggs King. “I would think it would be a very easy bill to pass. I don’t know why it wouldn’t unless somebody tried to amend it to have other language, as they did the last time. We’ll see. It should be an easy fix.”
The bill was voted out of committee with approval on January 18th. It now heads to the next step of the legislative process.
Categories: Delaware, Local News, Local Politics