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Suffrage for 18-Year-Olds

Suffrage for 18-Year-Olds/tiles/non-collection/c/c_016imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


George M. Montross of Detroit sent this letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler to express his outrage over the decision to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. He questioned the legality of the action, believing that the Constitution had been violated, “wantonly and flagrantly,” by those sworn to protect it.

An amendment to a bill extending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (H.R. 4249) expanded the right to vote in national, state, and local elections to citizens 18 years and older. Previously, designating the voting age was the jurisdiction of the individual states. Despite signing the bill (P.L. 91-285) in June 1970, President Richard Nixon issued a statement questioning the constitutionality of the amendment, saying, “Although I strongly favor the 18-year-old vote, I believe—along with most of the Nation’s leading constitutional scholars—that Congress has no power to enact it by simple statute, but rather it requires a constitutional amendment.” This set the stage for a review by the Justice Department and a decision by the United States Supreme Court.

In August 1970, the Supreme Court, in Oregon v. Mitchell, was asked to review the voting age provisions of the law. The Court decided that the law was valid for federal elections, but not at state and local levels. To avoid the complicated and costly voting procedure established by the Court’s decision—separate elections for national and state and local contests for most states—Congress scrambled to pass a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age. The proposed 26th Amendment passed the House and Senate in the spring of 1971 and was ratified by the states on July 1, 1971.

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