Twenty-Sixth Amendment

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Twenty-Sixth Amendment

The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Twenty-sixth Amendment was proposed on March 23, 1971, and ratified on July 1, 1971. The ratification period of 107 days was the shortest in U.S. history. The amendment, which lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen, was passed quickly to avert potential problems in the 1972 elections.

The drive for lowering the voting age began with young people who had been drawn into the political arena by the Vietnam War. Proponents argued that if eighteen-year-olds were old enough to be drafted into military service and sent into combat, they were also old enough to vote. This line of argument was not new. It had persuaded Georgia and Kentucky to lower the minimum voting age to eighteen during World War II. The one flaw in the argument was that women were not drafted and were not allowed to serve in combat units if they enlisted in the armed forces.

Nevertheless, the drive for lowering the voting age gained momentum. In 1970 Congress passed a measure that lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen in both federal and state elections (84 Stat. 314).

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, declared part of this measure unconstitutional in Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 91 S. Ct. 260, 27 L. Ed. 2d 272 (1970). The decision was closely divided. Four justices believed Congress had the constitutional authority to lower the voting age in all elections, four justices believed the opposite, and one justice, hugo l. black, concluded that Congress could lower the voting age by statute only in federal elections, not in state elections.

The Court's decision allowed eighteen-yearolds to vote in the 1972 presidential and congressional elections but left the states to decide if they wished to lower the voting age in their state elections. The potential for chaos was clear. Congress responded by proposing the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which required the states as well as the federal government to lower the voting age to eighteen.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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