On This Day: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote”

On June 30, 1971, then-President Richard Nixon issued the following statement: “Tonight, Ohio’s Legislature ratified the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment guarantees the right of 18-year-old persons to vote in state and local, as well as federal, elections. It appears that 38 states have now ratified the Amendment that will now become part of the law of the land. The ratification of this amendment has been accomplished in the shortest time of any amendment in American history” (1).

Signed just a few days later, the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: “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” (2).

The push to lower the voting age began during WWII. In 1942, President Roosevelt lowered the draft age of young men from 21 to 18 years old. Americans pointed out that it seemed only right that a young man required to serve in his country’s army should also have the right to vote. The slogan “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote” became their cry. At the time, the proposal did not gain enough traction in Congress for passage, but when the Vietnam War came around, the idea was renewed. Congress aimed to lower the voting age as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but after its passage, President Nixon himself suggested that this new law would only be upheld if it was passed as a constitutional amendment. The amendment was quickly drafted and ratified.

On July 5, 1971, President Nixon signed the certified amendment with three 18-year-olds signing as witnesses (2). Upon its enactment, the US gained 11 million additional voters (3).

Mirroring the sentiments of the “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote” crowd, there is a contingent of Americans today who would like to see the voting age lowered again, this time to 16. Opponents of this proposal suggest that 16 and 17-year-olds are too young to make mature decisions regarding politics. Arguments in favor suggest that as this group is most affected by gun violence in schools, they should have a say in how that violence is addressed by lawmakers. They also point out that in countries where the voting age is at 16, that group’s turnout is much higher than among 18-21-year-olds (4). What do you think? Should the voting age in the United States be lowered to 16 years old?

1. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/statement-about-ratification-the-26th-amendment-the-constitution

2. https://www.nixonlibrary.gov/news/26th-amendment#:~:text=Sentiment%20to%20lower%20the%20nation’s,21%20to%2018%20years%20old

3. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1971/07/06/issue.html

4. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/opinion/sunday/voting-age-school-shootings.html

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