The Twenty-Sixth Amendment: "Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote"

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment was ratified on July 1, 1971. Prior to the passage of this amendment, the voting age was traditionally 21. By the 1970s, many states were allowed to have a lower voting age, but most still legally held it at 21.

As young men (many only teenagers) were drafted into the controversial Vietnam War, a robust movement arose to lower the voting age. It was not the first time that a lower voting age had been proposed (Senator Jennings Randolph had considered the idea during World War II), but the movement of the ’40s never gained needed traction in Congress.

By the late 1960s however, many felt disenfranchised – old enough to risk their lives for their country, yet not old enough to participate in its democratic process. Without any peaceful say in government, many young people turned to protest.

The unpopularity of the draft and subsequent calls for enfranchisement put pressure on Congress to lower the voting age and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment was ratified in under four months. It was the shortest ratification period of any constitutional amendment in U.S. history (!).

Despite an estimated 25 million new voters for the 1972 presidential election, only roughly half of the newly eligible youth vote turned out. A decline in the youth vote continued, yet many young voters today are active participants in the democratic process.

Below is a collection of resources on the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and the history of the youth vote in America. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:

Amendment XXVI

Section 1.

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Explore the 26th Amendment at NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>

Selected online resources on the Twenty-Sixth Amendment:

American ConstitutionNational Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution

The National Constitution Center offers introductory essays by top legal scholars that explain the meaning of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, reactions to it, and voting qualifications as related to domicile.

Visit NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>



Richard Nixon greeted by children during campaign, Jack E. Kightlinger, 1972“The Eighteen Year Old Vote: The Twenty-Sixth Amendment and Subsequent Voting Rates of Newly Enfranchised Age Groups”

In 1982, researcher Thomas H. Neale created a report examining the events that culminated in the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, as well as its aftermath and the impact of having a larger youth vote.

Read the report at the University of North Texas Digital Library >>



Gallup Brain: “History of the Youth Vote”

At Gallup, Linda Lyons examines the history of the youth vote, and, in particular, the trends in public opinion leading up to the passing of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment. Did you know that public support waxed and waned through the 1960s?

Learn more at >>



Smithsonian Magazine: “How Young Activists Got 18-Year-Olds the Right to Vote in Record Time”

Button, "Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote" 1971

National Museum of American History

At Smithsonian Magazine, Manisha Claire provides an extended history of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, with details on opposition, activism, and results of the 1972 presidential election.

Read the article at Smithsonian Magazine >>




*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on voting rights, the youth vote, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, or its history and controversies, and would like your work included here, send it to us at

Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:

Election Laws and Policy


James Ceaser, Election Reform: Politics and Policy. (Lexington Books, 2004)

Gideon Cohn-Postar, A Shell Plant Coerced Workers into Attending a Trump Rally, Here’s What That Means for Democracy.” (The Washington Post The Monkey Cage, September 2, 2019)

Election Reform: Politics and PolicyJay Kent Dow, Electing the House: The Adoption and Performance of the U.S. Single-Member District Electoral System. (University Press of Kansas, 2017)

Jay Kent Dow, Party-System Extremism in Majoritarian and Proportional Electoral Systems.” (British Journal of Political Science 41.2, 2011)

David Houpt,Contested Election Laws: Representation, Elections, and Party Building in Pennsylvania, 1788-1794.” (Pennsylvania History 79.3, Summer 2012)

Michael Munger, 19th Century Voting Procedures in a 21st Century World.” (Public Choice 124.1/2, 2005)

Michael Munger, Voting methods, problems of majority rule, and demand-revealing procedures.” (Public Choice 152.1/2, 2012)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Beyond the End of the Beginning.” (Election Reform: Politics and Policy, Lexington Books, 2005)

Electing the House: The Adoption and Performance of the US Single-Member District Electoral SystemDaniel Palazzolo (co-author), Complying with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA): Variations among the States.” (Making Every Vote Count, Princeton University Press, 2006)

Daniel Palazzolo, Election Reform After the 2000 Election.” (Election Reform: Politics and Policy, Lexington Books, 2005)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Election Reform After HAVA: Voter Verification in Congress and the States.” (Publius: The Journal of Federalism 38.3, Summer 2008)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Election Reform in Virginia: Incremental Change and Deliberation.” (Election Reform: Politics and Policy, Lexington Books, 2005)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), HAVA and the States.” (Publius: The Journal of Federalism 35, 2005)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Policy Crisis and Political Leadership: Election Law Reform in the States after the 2000 Election.” (State Politics and Policy Quarterly 6, 2006)

Civic Education and CultureThomas Pangle, Should Felons Vote? A Paradigmatic Debate Over the Meaning of Civic Responsibility.” (Civic Education and Culture, ISI Books, 2005)

Jeffrey Rosen, Political Questions and the Hazards of Pragmatism.” (Bush v. Gore: The Question of Legitimacy, Yale University Press, 2002)

Jonathan White, Citizens and Soldiers: Party Competition and the Debate in Pennsylvania over Permitting Soldiers to Vote, 1861-64.” (American Nineteenth Century History 5, Summer 2004)

Justin Wert (co-author), Seats, Votes, Citizens, and History in the One-Person, One-Vote Problem.” (Stanford Law & Policy Review, May 30, 2012)


Voting Rights


Waud (1867) freed blacks votingGideon Cohn-Postar, Mississippi: African-American Voters Sue Over Election Law Rooted in the State’s Racist Past.” (The Conversation, September 23, 2019)

Gideon Cohn-Postar, Mississippi Governor’s Race Taking Place Under Jim Crow-era Rules After Judge Refuses to Block Them.” (The Conversation, November 1, 2019)

Rogers Smith (co-author), The Last Stand? Shelby County v. Holder and White Political Power in Modern America.” (Du Bois Review 13.1, Spring 2016)

Rogers Smith (co-author), Racial Inequality and the Weakening of Voting Rights in America.” (Discover Society 33, June 1, 2016)

Rogers Smith (co-author), Restricting Voting Rights in Modern America.” (Transatlantica 1, 2015)

Joey Torres, The Voting Rights Act’€™s Pre-Clearance Provisions: The Experience of Native Americans in South Dakota.” (American Indian Culture and Research Journal 41.4, 2017)

Justin Wert (co-author), The Rise and Fall of the Voting Rights Act. (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016)

Jonathan White, Canvassing the Troops: The Federal Government and the Soldiers’ Right to Vote.” (Civil War History 50.3, 2004)

Jonathan White, Supporting the Troops: The Soldiers’ Right to Vote in Civil War Pennsylvania.” (Pennsylvania Heritage, Winter 2006)


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on voting rights, the youth vote, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, or its history and controversies, and would like your work included here, send it to us at



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