The Vietnam War was raging. Young people were fighting and dying by the thousands. Protest against the war were being held on college campuses throughout the nation. The youth of America were demanding to have an official say in the process of choosing the country’s leaders. On this day in 1971 they got it.
June 30, 1971, the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, giving people 18-21 the right to vote. President Richard Nixon signed it into law a few days later.
The Amendment added 10 million new eligible voters, increasing the overall voting pool nationally by 8 percent. In some college communities student voters had the potential to make up over one-third of the actual voting block.
Many states and elected officials fought against ratification of the Amendment, some predicting that the effect this new group of voters would be negative and harmful. But this potentially potent political force never came to be.
In 1972, 50 percent of eligible 18- to 24-year-olds voted. But 20 years later that percentage had dropped to 32 percent. However, the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama saw a voter turnout of some 49 percent of 18- to 24 year-olds, the second highest in history.