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The 50th Anniversary of the 26th Amendment

March 22, 2021

student-protests-26th-amendmentCongress passed the 26th Amendment in March 1971; it was ratified by the states and signed by President Richard Nixon by July of that same year.1 The amendment lowered the voting age to 18. It reads:

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.2

WATCH: President Nixon Certifies the 26th Amendment

The movement to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 was the product of several decades. In 1942, Representative Jennings Randolph, D-W.Va., introduced the first federal legislation to lower the voting age to 18, arguing, “They possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills.”3 During World War II, advocates used the slogan, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”4 This slogan became a rallying cry during the Vietnam War because of that war’s unpopularity.5

Primary Source: Letter from the Youth Franchise Coalition to Senator Birch Bayh, D-Ind., Chairman of the Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee (Judiciary)

Image Credit: Scot Wilson; Birch Bayh Senatorial Papers, Indiana University

Debates over access to the ballot remain a central feature of U.S. democracy. Recently, Republicans have proposed at least 250 state laws that would make voting requirements stricter in various ways, while Democrats in Congress are promoting federal legislation to increase voter registration, soften voter ID laws, and require states to make voting more convenient.6 For more on this, see our March 8 post on competing election reform proposals.

READ: From the Current Issues Blog, “Should the Voting Age Be Lowered to 16?”

As debates about elections and voting continue, it is important to pause and reflect on the turning points like the 26th amendment that expanded suffrage in U.S. elections.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think that the rallying cry, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” makes a good argument? Why or why not?
  2. Were there other good arguments for lowering the voting age to 18?
  3. Turnout among 18-20-year-old voters lags behind that of other age groups. Why do you think that is the case?
  4. How could schools and other community organizations support the engagement of young people with the political process?
  5. How could political candidates better engage young voters?

This year marks 50 years since the passage and ratification of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 in all 50 states. Join us for a conversation this Thursday, March 25, on the importance of this amendment, how young voters have grown over time, and how to engage young people in our democracy.

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below!



Featured Image Credit: Tom Barlet; Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection
[1]. History.com: https://www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/the-26th-amendment
[2] Congress.gov: https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-26/
[3] History.com: https://www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/the-26th-amendment
[4] National World War II Museum: https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/voting-age-26th-amendment
[5] National Archives: https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2013/11/13/records-of-rights-vote-old-enough-to-fight-old-enough-to-vote/
[6] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/voting-restrictions-republicans-states/



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