Civil and Human Rights

This Day in Constitutional History: Senate proposes 26th Amendment to lower the voting age to 18

On March 10, 1971, the US Senate voted in favor of amending the Constitution to allow 18 year olds to vote.

The bill passed the Senate 94-0 and was fully ratified just four months later, driven by the “steady civic and moral drumbeat” of the debate over the Vietnam War and the civil rights and voting rights movements. (See “The 26th Amendment and the Progressive Constitution” for further history.)

The 26th Amendment 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 power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 26th Amendment became the sixth constitutional amendment dedicated to expanding the right to vote.

The 26th Amendment grants Congress the power to enforce the law and protect voters’ rights, just as the 15th Amendment (enfranchising black Americans,) the 19th (enfranchising women,) and the 24th (banning poll taxes) had previously.

This term, the Supreme Court will decide two voting rights cases that attempt to call into question Congress’s clear constitutional power to prevent discriminatory voting laws. Learn more about Shelby County v. Holder and Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council.

 

 Campaign buttons from 1968, the last presidential election in which 18 year olds could not participate.

 

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