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:
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.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Selected online resources on the Twenty-Sixth Amendment:
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.
“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.
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?
Smithsonian Magazine: “How Young Activists Got 18-Year-Olds the Right to Vote in Record Time”
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.
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org.