Celebration of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 26th Amendment which grants citizens the right to vote if they are eighteen years of age or older. The amendment states, “ 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.” Today (March 23rd) Congress passed the amendment, but it was not ratified until July 1st, 1971.

This amendment was created in response to the Vietnam War. Many argued that those old enough to be drafted for military service should be able to exercise the right to vote. As a response, Congress lowered the voting age as a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1970, but the Supreme Court held that this portion of the act only applied to federal elections in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970). This meant that citizens 18 years and older could vote, but only in federal elections. In response to this, Congress knew it needed to pass a constitutional amendment to uniformly reduce the age to 18.   

The traditional constitutional amendment process is described in Article V of the Constitution. Congress must pass a proposed amendment by a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and send it to the states for ratification by a vote of the state legislatures. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971, right before the 1972 elections.

CEEP is celebrating the youth vote, while recognizing that barriers facing young people, and particularly college students, have prevented the US from fulfilling the full promise of the 26th Amendment. Today’s young voters face both legal and psychological barriers to voting, such as complicated registration processes or unfamiliarity with the democratic process. This year’s anniversary highlights the importance of breaking down those barriers, and the role of youth voting rights activism in creating a more diverse and equitable democracy.

The Students Learn Students Vote (SLSV) 26th Amendment Committee just released a toolkit and social media graphics if you want to join us in this celebration of the 26th Amendment.

Image is attributed to The National WWII History Museum

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