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Understanding the 26th Amendment

Understanding the 26th Amendment

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution was a result of student activism and demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

Even though the age to participate in voting was generally twenty-one, certain states imposed their own requirements for voting age, setting the minimum to eighteen. The 26th Amendment would finally address the voting age concern and standardized the minimum age requirement to eighteen.

The 26th Amendment was proposed on March 23rd, 1971, and ratified on July 1st of the same year. The 26th Amendment would be the quickest to be ratified in United States history. The question of standardized voting age had been briefly addressed even before activism would begin against the Vietnam War. President Dwight D. Eisenhower would be the first President to publicly voice his opinion, stating his support for lowering the voting age to eighteen. President Nixon would sign into law an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that would effectively enact the voting age minimum of eighteen.

On June 22, 1970, President Nixon signed into law the lowering of the voting age to eighteen for all Federal, state, and local elections. However, this new legislation would be challenged by Oregon v. Mitchell, which declared the law unconstitutional on the basis that the Federal Government did not have the authority to set a minimum age requirement for voting in state and local elections. The argument of student activists and those supporting the voting age minimum of eighteen would often cite that if a person is old enough to fight in a war, then that person is old enough to vote. This was a result of the draft age being lowered to eighteen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the onset of World War II.

As a result of Oregon v. Mitchell, the United States Supreme Court would enforce the voting age of eighteen for Federal elections and allowed eighteen-year-old individuals to vote in the 1972 Presidential and Congressional elections. However, it maintained that the states would ultimately decide the voting age minimum individually for their own state and local elections. This would prove to be somewhat of a situation ripe for confusion and chaos, for two systems for voting and record-keeping would have to be implemented and kept separate for Federal and state elections.

It became clear to the majority of the states that an amendment proposed by Congress to lower to voting age to a standard of eighteen years would provide for a more concise and simple system of voting and elections. Once the 26th Amendment was proposed, it became the quickest to be ratified by the required number of states in U.S. history.