26th Amendment: commentary

This amendment was passed during the Vietnam War, a time of nationwide anti-war protests and social unrest. The United States was bitterly divided over the war.

There were endless protests over the draft—being called up for military service. All males over the age of 18 were eligible for the draft. But the minimum voting age was 21. It was widely considered unfair that these 18-year-olds were eligible for military service, and therefore old enough to fight and die for their country, but didn’t have the right to vote.

The 14th Amendment had guaranteed the right to vote, in non-direct language, to 21-year-old men. This was the basis of the general rule that you had to be 21 to vote.

After much political debate and a Supreme Court case (in which the justices’ opinions were divided), Congress finally lowered the national voting age to 18. In the 26th Amendment, the minimum age was set at 18 for both state and national elections. It was ratified in July 1971.

It should be noted that the 26th Amendment allows for states to lower the voting age to 17 or even 16, if they so wish. This amendment is a sort of national guideline. There has been some misunderstanding about this, and some disagreement, since some people don’t think that 18-year-olds are mature enough to vote, and shouldn’t have the right. But most citizens approve of it.