The College of New Jersey was vibrant with political inspiration in 2009. Following a historic election victory by President Barack Obama, syndicated columnist Anne Coulter and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean visited the Ewing, NJ, campus to address students. Compared to 1969, however, the political activity at TCNJ might have seemed ‘conservative.’
This April marked the 40-year anniversary of a national drive spearheaded by three college-aged lobbyists to put the 18 year-old vote on the ballot in the New Jersey. Stuart Goldstein ’72 helped form the Voting Age Coalition (VAC) of New Jersey in 1969 and his efforts created momentum on a national scale that resulted in Congressional passage of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which standardized the voting age of 18.
“We would go to class in the morning, change into suits in the afternoon and go down to Trenton to lobby the legislators,” recalled Goldstein, who was an English major while at TSC. “It was a period of time in our country when colleges were a raging center of student activism that changed the nation. College students were not viewed in a real positive light back then by government, but rather as snobbish and arrogant kids. It was a difficult time with the Vietnam War, Spiro Agnew and later, the shootings at Kent State.”
Goldstein began his involvement when he met Rider College student David Dupell, who impressed upon Goldstein that students could bring about positive change in government. They, along with Ken Norbe of Glassboro State (now Rowan University) created an alliance amongst New Jersey colleges that originally lobbied for more state funding. Goldstein led the “March on Trenton” in protest of tuition increases.
In time, their efforts shifted to lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. While the popular mantra for that campaign centered around 18 year-olds being drafted to fight the Vietnam War—“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote”—Goldstein and VAC had a greater sense of purpose. Their pursuit of the amendment was motivated by visions of comprehensive education on politics and government, which would ultimately stimulate youth interest and involvement in government and public service.
“The Kennedy Commission report noted that our country was not doing a good job in teaching the people how government works and how the public could bring about constructive change,” said Goldstein. “The lowest participation rate among voters was the 21-29 year-old group. Our contention was that lowering the voting age to 18 would foster a growth in creating educational programs specific to teaching high school students how government works and how to become better citizens. As Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘The greatest threat to democracy is uneducated citizenry.’”
The first step was to get the 18 year-old vote on the ballot in New Jersey. The VAC failed in convincing legislators twice, but in their third and final attempt, Goldstein pitched a group of 35 sorority girls at Trenton State to accompany him to the assembly. He was successful in convincing them to join forces, and their strong presence was enough to attain the 28 necessary votes for the majority leader to commit. New Jersey was followed by the state of Ohio, where residents launched their own Voting Age Coalition. By 1970, 13 states followed with voting rights drives, and on July 1, 1971, the 26h Amendment was adopted. During the amendment’s signing ceremony on July 7, 1971, President Richard Nixon talked about his confidence in the youth of America.
“As I meet with this group today, I sense that we can have confidence that America’s new voters, America’s young generation, will provide what America needs as we approach our 200th birthday, not just strength and not just wealth but the ‘Spirit of ’76’ a spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in the American dream, but in which we realize that the American dream can never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it in his own life.”
Goldstein remained in state government and politics for 10 years after graduating. He is now the managing director of corporate communications at the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which is the central infrastructure that supports settlements of all trading. While current students may not know Goldstein or of his persistent efforts 40 years prior to their enrollment at TCNJ, they can be thankful they all had a say in the election of our nation’s 44th president.
True to his nature, Goldstein remains interested in whether students continue to play an active role in government issues. “Is there student activism on campus today?” he asked.
Getting the voting age lowered was not the group’s only victory. While Goldstein was still a student at the College, he, Dubell, and Norbe also organized a test case that became a national precedent to allow college students to register to vote from their dormitory addresses. And they were successful in getting the Adult Rights Bill passed, which allowed 18 year-olds to sign contracts and enjoy full rights of those over 21. “Dave, Ken and I still believe one person can make a difference…and enough students can create a ripple of change to transform our world,” Goldstein said.