Today, marks the 40th anniversary of the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Though it only took 100 days to ratify the amendment, the battle to lower the voting age was years in the making.
Rep. Jennings Randolph, a Democrat from West Virginia, introduced legislation to lower the voting age in 1942—the first of 11 times that he would introduce such a bill. Randolph, later elected to the Senate, had great confidence in America’s youth, saying: “They possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world, and are anxious to rectify those ills.”
The increased student activism of the 1960s increased support for lowering the voting age, and in 1970, Congress voted for the decrease with the extension of the Voting Rights Act. That same year, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the change could only be applied to federal elections.
That’s why a constitutional amendment was required.
The bill creating the amendment quickly passed the Senate, shepherded by Democratic Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, and after Speaker of the House Carl Albert, a Democrat from Oklahoma, endorsed the measure, it passed the House 400 to 19 on March 23, 1971. On July 1, 1971, North Carolina became the 38th state to ratify the amendment; President Richard Nixon then officially signed it into law on July 5th.
Senator Bayh, Senator Randolph, and Speaker Albert weren’t the only Democrats who played prominent roles in the creation of the amendment. Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Warren Magnuson of Washington, as well as House Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana were all critical. And of course, young Democratic activists from across the country supported the lawmakers in their work.
To this day, Democrats continue to lead in the effort to support the right to vote and are currently fighting Republican-led efforts to pass suppressive photo ID voting laws, restrictions on voter registration drives, and reductions in Early Voting. Young people – as well as people of color, older voters, and low-income people – are disproportionately affected by these laws.
You can learn more about photo ID laws by reading the Real Cost of Photo ID laws.