Monday, September 16, 2013

When We Got To Vote For President

With the approval of a constitutional amendment in the summer of 1971 to lower the voting age to 18, it meant for the first time the vast majority of Vanderbilt students were at least eligible to cast ballots in the presidential election of November, 1972.  How many of us did, I can't say. Vanderbilt was not a separate voting precinct and registering and voting absentee out of state was sometimes problematic at best.

As a Nashville resident, I registered as soon as the 18 year old vote was approved. The city had its Metro elections in August, 1971 and I remember going down to the city courthouse to sign up. The Metro Voter Registar, Mary Ferrell did not approve of 18-year olds having the vote. She marked all our permenent registration forms with a big red marker that said Under 21. As far as I know, over 40 years later  it's still on my orginal voter registration  document.

While I remember several efforts to get students active and involved in the 1972 presidential election (through the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans plus the Young Americans for Freedom group on campus), I am not sure how many did. Vanderbilt was a pretty conservative campus and I imagine among those who did vote, they leaned fairly heavily to the GOP. The contest itself in Tennessee and nationwide between incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon (above left) and Democratic candidate Senator George McGovern (above right) was not close at all as you can see in Red (Republican) versus Blue (Democratic) election returns map below....

From our "way back" machine, courtesy of the Vanderbilt TV News Archives, here's how NBC Nightly News recapped the results the day after on November 8, 1972. While it was "Four More Years" for the President the idea of voters dividing power in Washington was already well in place...

I remember on Election Night in 1972, we did some on-air coverage of the returns at WRVU using our UPI wire machine. When urgent or bulletin type news moved on the wire in those days, the machine sounded a certain number of bells to let us know something big was coming down. The greatest number of bells was for a Flash and that's what UPI sent as soon as the President reached the 270 threshold of electoral votes to be re-elected.

I then remember one of the freshman working on our coverage, Ann Womer from Ohio asked if she could keep the Flash as a keepsake. She was a really big Nixon fan at the time.

Unfortunately a second term for President Nixon did not turn out well. In fact a little over a year after we graduated from Vanderbilt , he resigned from office in August, 1974. Things had already begun to come part for the adminstration in the spring of our senior year when a number of his top aides resigned because of the ongoing Watergate scandal and coverup. Again from the "way back" machine here is that coverage from CBS which aired on April 30, 1973.....

One of my lasting memories about Watergate when I was at Vanderbilt came from a political science class on Election Day, 1972. The Watergate scandal began during the campaign with the break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters in June of that year. We discussed the Watergate matter in class that day (as we knew it at the time), and without much dissent, we concluded we really didn't know what it was all about, but that it probably wouldn't have any long term impact on American politics. Of course, history shows, we could not have been more incorrect.

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