• Blog
  • June 30, 2021
  • by NCC Staff

Just which state ratified the 26th Amendment?

On June 30, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a public statement congratulating Ohio as the 38th state to approve the 26th Amendment, in record time. But history has another state and date as the official ratifier of the constitutional rights of 18 year olds to vote.

RichardNixonThe 26th Amendment grew out of the Vietnam War era and it was unique in several ways. It only took just a little more than three months from its approval in Congress to its ratification by 38, or three-quarters, of the states, as stated in Article V of the Constitution. That's the quickest of any of the 27 Amendments.

A year earlier, Congress had tried to lower the nationwide voting age to 18 years of age when it amended the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Nixon signed the extension, but he also publicly recognized that the Voting Rights Act provision about the voting age could be challenged in court on constitutional grounds.

The states of Oregon and Texas fought the Voting Rights Act provision and a divided Supreme Court, in Oregon v. Mitchell, handed down a decision that only complicated matters.

In its 5-4 ruling on December 21, 1970, the Court ruled that Congress could mandate the 18-year-old voting age in federal elections, but not state and local elections. However, states would be required to keep two sets of voting records to ensure that 18, 19 and 20 year-old voters were accounted for in federal elections.

The scenario of a bureaucratic logjam and public opinion in support of the lower voting age led to Congress approving the proposed 26th Amendment by mid-March. “The well-known proposition—‘old enough to fight, old enough to vote’--deserves special mention. To me, this part of the argument for granting the vote to 18 year-olds has great appeal,” said Senator Edward Kennedy during the Senate debate on the issue.

By the end of March, 1971, 11 states had already ratified the amendment. And on June 30, 1971, three states had final votes on ratification. During the day, Alabama and North Carolina ratified the proposed 26th Amendment, and then Ohio voted as the 38th state on the night of June 30.

President Nixon immediately issued a statement that was reported nationally.

“Tonight, Ohio's Legislature ratified the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. This Amendment guarantees the right of 18-year-old persons to vote in State and local, as well as Federal, elections. It appears that 38 States have now ratified the Amendment that will now become a part of the law of the land,” Nixon said. “The ratification of this Amendment has been accomplished in the shortest time of any amendment in American history.”

However, the National Archives and the Library of Congress have recognized North Carolina as the 38th state to ratify the 26th Amendment, with the General Services Administration stating North Carolina legislature actually concluded its action on July 1, 1971. During the amendment process, the states have to send official documents to the federal office that does the final paperwork in Washington. At that time, the General Services Administration performed that function.

At a ceremony on July 5, 1971, General Services administrator Robert Kunzig officially certified at the 26th Amendment as valid with President Nixon in attendance. Nixon and three 18-year-olds served as witnesses to Kunzig’s signature on the newly minted 26th Amendment.

Eventually, a total of 43 states agreed to ratification and seven states never voted on it after Kunzig’s certification.

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