Saturday, I registered to vote.
Having turned 18 in May, and anxious to let myself be heard – officially, of course – in an election for the first time, I had been excited to register but just did not know how. Luckily, I ran into some activists in front of a local grocery store who were able to help me out.

Of interesting note to me, Richard Nixon gave me that right. Here’s the story:

For nearly 200 years, from the time of our nation’s founding in 1776 until 1971, men at 18 years of age could be drafted and give their lives for their country, but not vote. Men and women at 18 years of age could be in college, obtain steady jobs, get married and begin families, but not vote. Those in office were deciding matters without the input of a significant number of young people, whom their decisions affected.

President Nixon recognized that neglecting to extend those rights was a gross injustice. He signed amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which did so, though they were challenged in court and subsequently declared unconstitutional. It was RN’s push, though, that sparked a national debate and caused those in Congress to reevaluate their positions; after passage by the Congress and ratification by the states, the right to vote for 18, 19, and 20 year olds was finally granted by the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. President Nixon affixed his signature – as the official witness – to the legislation on July 5, 1971.

Recently, one of my 18 year old friends told me that he believes President Nixon to be among the better presidents we’ve ever had, not only for his foreign policy genius but for listening to the concerns of young people. Be it meeting at 2 AM in the Lincoln Memorial with anti-war demonstrators (yes he did – you can read more about it  here) or extending the right to vote to younger people of a new generation, it mattered to the President what was on young peoples’ minds, the issues that they cared about, and how he could help.

So it is because of Richard Nixon that I registered to vote and will be voting for the first time in the upcoming 2012 elections. By doing so, I will utilize a right that is all-too-often taken for granted.

Jimmy Byron is Marketing Assistant at the Richard Nixon Foundation.

Photo Courtesy of Corbis Images: 21 Aug 1972, Miami, Florida, USA — A young supporter of President Nixon holds up a sign at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami.