Constitutional Curiosities: The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
By Mahmoud Fadli
The Constitution of the United States is a very fascinating document. While the first ten amendments to the constitution are well studied, amendments like the Twenty-Sixth Amendment do not always get the amount of attention they deserve. This short article is meant to discuss the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and how it came to be.
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment came as a result of student activism during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, all men between the ages of 18 to 21 were conscripted to fight in the US Armed Forces. This, however, was an irony, for many young activists at the time realized that while they were forcefully conscripted to fight a war they did not approve of, they could not show their displeasure through the electoral process. In other words, it was politics that started the war, and it was in matters of politics that they had no say. At the time the voting age was 21 years old and student activists had enough. They began grassroots movements to demand that they be allowed to vote. The slogan was simple: “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” The logic, stated bluntly, was that if they were old enough to fight and die, then they should be considered old enough to vote.
Voting Rights Act
Activists’ demands did not fall on deaf ears, and the furor of their movement caught the nation’s attention. In 1970, then President Richard Nixon passed the Voting Rights Act. The Act lowered the voting after from 21 to 18 for all elections, including state and local elections.
The States, however, were not impressed. Oregon and Texas challenged the law before the Supreme Court. The case, Oregon v. Mitchell (400 U.S. 112 (1970)), determined whether the Federal Government had the authority dictate minimum voting ages for state and local elections, in addition to Federal elections. The Supreme Court held that it did not, and while the Federal Government could regulate the minimum voting age for Federal elections, it could not do so for state and local elections.
Thus, the only way to lower the minimum voting age across the nation was through a Constitutional Amendment that would also apply to the States.
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution 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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
In March of 1971, both the Senate and the House of Representatives voted in favor of the Amendment, and on March 23, 1971, with both Chambers of Congress approving, the Amendment was proposed. That same day, Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Washington ratified the Amendment. California ratified the Amendment on April 19, 1971, and by July 1, 1971, North Carolina became the 38th State to ratify the Amendment. On that date, the Amendment was officially adopted.
The Amendment’s Importance
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment was indeed a shift in the electoral process. It was ratified and adopted at a time where young men and women were being conscripted to fight for a war they had no say in. While many of us take voting for granted, and indeed voter-turnout levels indicate that we do, we cannot forget the hard work and sacrifices of the young men and women who made this Amendment possible, nor can we ever take our right to have a say in our government for granted.