The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Section 1 of the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “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 or by any State on account of age.” This provision simply states that all American citizens age eighteen years and over have the right to vote unless the right is forfeited by criminal actions or lack of mental ability to do so.
This amendment was adopted quicker than any other amendment to the Constitution. It was proposed on March 23, 1971, and ratified in July 1971. I remember when this amendment was passed and ratified during the Vietnam War. Young adults insisted on the right to vote for their leaders if they were going to be drafted and sent to fight for their country under the direction of those same leaders.
W. Cleon Skousen explained, “The determination of the legal age for adulthood has always been a matter of conjecture. In the past it has usually been set at age twenty-one; however, the government presumed to draft young men at the age of eighteen, and therefore the point was raised that if they are old enough to fight, they certainly should be old enough to vote. This was the original Anglo-Saxon criteria.
“The main objection to the reduction of the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen has been that young people are very impressionable at this age. It has been observed that they become much more settled in their thinking as well as their system of values by the time they reach twenty-one.
“Radical or agitational movements are often emotionally attractive to eighteen-year-olds but hold little or no attraction to them a few years later. Because youth are inclined to be innovative, the liberal and progressive groups expected that they would reap a windfall from the eighteen-year-old vote.
“As it turned out, however, the eighteen-year-old franchise has not produced any significant change in the political process. Young people have not voted in a bloc, and they seem to take a serious and responsible attitude toward this new trust.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 762-763.)
Robert Levy of The Heritage Foundation further explained, “The Vietnam War provoked many draft-age youngsters and like-minded adults to proclaim, `If eighteen-to-twenty-year-olds are old enough to die for their country, they’re old enough to vote.’ That slogan is commonly cited as the impetus for the Twenty-sixth Amendment. The truth is somewhat less colorful. The amendment was crafted primarily to overturn the holding of a fractured Supreme Court in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970). The case had invalidated an attempt by Congress to regulate voting age in state and local elections. Essentially, the Twenty-sixth Amendment did what Congress could not do….
“After Oregon v. Mitchell, states unwilling to set their minimum voting age at eighteen would have been required to maintain separate voting systems for federal and nonfederal elections. To avoid that complication and expense, the states opted for national uniformity and ratified the Twenty-sixth Amendment in record time – a mere 107 days after it was proposed by Congress.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 432.)