Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
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The Twenty-sixth Amendment (Amendment XXVI) to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from setting a voting age higher than eighteen. It was adopted in response to student activism against the Vietnam War and to partially overrule the Supreme Court's decision in Oregon v. Mitchell. It was adopted on July 1, 1971.
- 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.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1954 State of the Union address, became the first president to publicly state his support for prohibiting age-based denials of suffrage for those 18 and older.
On June 22, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required the voting age to be 18 in all federal, state, and local elections. In his statement on signing the extension, Nixon said:
Despite my misgivings about the constitutionality of this one provision, I have signed the bill. I have directed the Attorney General to cooperate fully in expediting a swift court test of the constitutionality of the 18-year-old provision.
Subsequently, Oregon and Texas challenged the law in court. In Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970), the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the parts of the law that required states to register 18-year-olds for state and local elections. Justice Hugo Black stated:
I would hold that Congress has exceeded its powers in attempting to lower the voting age in state and local elections.
This ruling meant that the law could only apply to federal elections, which meant states would have to have separate voting rolls for voters between 18 and 20 years old and special ballots for them to vote on federal races.
Congress and the state legislatures felt increasing pressure to pass the Constitutional amendment because of the Vietnam War, in which many young men who were ineligible to vote were conscripted to fight in the war, thus lacking any means to influence the people sending them off to risk their lives. "Old enough to fight, old enough to vote," was a common slogan used by proponents of lowering the voting age. The slogan traced its roots to World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the military draft age to eighteen.
On March 10, 1971, the Senate voted 94–0 in favor of proposing a Constitutional amendment to guarantee that the voting age could not be higher than 18. On March 23, 1971, the House of Representatives voted 401–19 in favor of the proposed amendment. Within four months after the Congress submitted it to the states, the amendment was ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, the shortest time in which any proposed amendment has received the number of ratifications needed for adoption.
As I meet with this group today, I sense that we can have confidence that America’s new voters, America’s young generation, will provide what America needs as we approach our 200th birthday, not just strength and not just wealth but the “Spirit of ‘76’ a spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in the American dream, but in which we realize that the American dream can never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it in his own life.
Proposal and ratification
The Congress proposed the Twenty-sixth Amendment on March 23, 1971, and the following states ratified the amendment:
- Connecticut (March 23, 1971)
- Delaware (March 23, 1971)
- Minnesota (March 23, 1971)
- Tennessee (March 23, 1971)
- Washington (March 23, 1971)
- Hawaii (March 24, 1971)
- Massachusetts (March 24, 1971)
- Montana (March 29, 1971)
- Arkansas (March 30, 1971)
- Idaho (March 30, 1971)
- Iowa (March 30, 1971)
- Nebraska (April 2, 1971)
- New Jersey (April 3, 1971)
- Kansas (April 7, 1971)
- Michigan (April 7, 1971)
- Alaska (April 8, 1971)
- Maryland (April 8, 1971)
- Indiana (April 8, 1971)
- Maine (April 9, 1971)
- Vermont (April 16, 1971)
- Louisiana (April 17, 1971)
- California (April 19, 1971)
- Colorado (April 27, 1971)
- Pennsylvania (April 27, 1971)
- Texas (April 27, 1971)
- South Carolina (April 28, 1971)
- West Virginia (April 28, 1971)
- New Hampshire (May 13, 1971)
- Arizona (May 14, 1971)
- Rhode Island (May 27, 1971)
- New York (June 2, 1971)
- Oregon (June 4, 1971)
- Missouri (June 14, 1971)
- Wisconsin (June 22, 1971)
- Illinois (June 29, 1971)
- Alabama (June 30, 1971)
- Ohio (June 30, 1971)
- North Carolina (July 1, 1971)
After its adoption, four more states voted to ratify the amendment:
- Oklahoma (July 1, 1971)
- Virginia (July 8, 1971)
- Wyoming (July 8, 1971)
- Georgia (October 4, 1971)
The following states have not ratified the amendment:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- United States Government Printing Office. "Reduction of Voting Age: Twenty-Sixth Amendment". gpo.gov.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Public Papers of the Presidents” January 7, 1954, p. 22.
- University of California, Santa Barbara. "196 - Statement on Signing the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970". presidency.ucsb.edu.
- Richard Nixon, “Public Papers of the Presidents” June 22, 1970, p. 512.
- Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2006). "Majority Rules: Oregon v. Mitchell (1970)". PBS.
- Cornell University Law School. "Oregon v. Mitchell (No. 43, Orig.) Syllabus: Supreme Court of the United States". law.cornell.edu.
- Wendell W. Cultice, Youth’s Battle for the Ballot: A History of Voting Age in America. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992), 172.
- 18 for Georgia and Kentucky, 19 for Alaska and 20 for Hawaii
- Neale, Thomas H. The Eighteen Year Old Vote: The Twenty-Sixth Amendment and Subsequent Voting Rates of Newly Enfranchised Age Groups. 1983.(PDF)
- Senate, Journal of the Senate, 92nd Congress, 1st session, 1971. S. S.J. Res. 7
- House, Journal of the House, 92nd Congress, 1st session, 1971. H. S.J. Res. 7
- Richard Nixon, “Public Papers of the Presidents” 5 July 1971, p. 801.
- Mount, Steve (January 2007). "Ratification of Constitutional Amendments". Retrieved February 24, 2007.
- National Archives: Twenty-sixth Amendment
- CRS Annotated Constitution: Twenty-sixth Amendment
- Eric Fish, The Twenty-sixth Amendment Enforcement Power