Passed by Congress March 23, 1971. Ratified July 1, 1971. The 26th Amendment changed a portion of the 14th Amendment.
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.
Amendment XXVI gives young adults between the age of eighteen and twenty-one the right to vote. The measure is another in a line of constitutional changes that expanded the right to vote to more citizens. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, most states limited voting to white, male citizens who were over the age of 21.
It took 82 years for African American slaves to gain a constitutional right to vote, 132 years for women’s suffrage and 183 years for those 18 to 21 years old to join the voting population. The impetus for this change was the passage of amendments to the Voting Rights Act in 1970 that set 18 as the minimum voting age for both federal and state elections.
But when the Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Mitchell that the law applied only to federal, not state elections, Congress adopted Amendment XXVI and states quickly ratified it on July 1, 1971.
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With the escalation of the Vietnam War came increased pressure to lower the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen. Young people argued that if they were old enough to die for their country, they were also old enough to vote for the leaders who sent them to war. Consequently, Congress proposed the Twenty-sixth Amendment on March 23, 1971, and it was ratified by three-fourths of the states on July 1, 1971—the fastest ever.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.