The 26th Amendment, the last in a series of amendments which expanded constitutional protection for voting rights, provided that “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.” Faster than any other amendment to the Constitution, it was ratified in just 100 days on 1 July 1971. Although not part of the 38 states needed for ratification, Virginia subsequently ratified the amendment on 8 July 1971.

Virginia Korean-Vietnam War History Council Collection, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” a slogan first used during World War II, became the rallying cry of student activists during the Vietnam War. To many, it seemed unfair that 18-year-olds were old enough to get married, work, pay taxes, and be drafted into military service, yet could not vote or have a voice in their government. Upon ratification, 11 million potential voters were added to the electorate. Half of these young people cast their ballot in the 1972 presidential election.

Soldiers in Vietnam. 1960s.

Virginia Korean-Vietnam War History Council Collection, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

Since its passage, courts have continually reaffirmed that the 26th Amendment confers protections only within the realm of voting. In the past twenty years, the question of lowering the voting age again has resurfaced. In the United States and several other countries, the argument is being made that 16-year-olds work and pay taxes and therefore should also have the right to vote.

Header Image Citation

Soldiers in Vietnam. 1960s.
Virginia Korean-Vietnam War History Council Collection, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia.

Catherine Fitzgerald Wyatt

Catherine Fitzgerald Wyatt

Education & Outreach Manager

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