The 26th Amendment was ratified fifty years ago, on July 1, 1971. It lowered the voting age to 18 from 21 and prohibited the denial or infringement of the right to vote “on account of age.” The amendment allowed millions of young Americans to vote, and is the last time the United States significantly expanded voting rights.
To examine and celebrate the 26th Amendment in the classroom, here are some lesson ideas and activities using archival and current articles and Opinion pieces from The New York Times.
Changing public opinion
A constitutional amendment to allow voting at age 18 was first introduced in Congress in 1942. In the 1940s and 1950s, a few key figures and organizations pushed for youth voting rights nationally and locally, and a few states and territories lowered their voting ages. Then, in the 1960s, the number of supporters expanded, with a majority of states and territories considering youth enfranchisement. These campaigns culminated in the emergence of a youth franchise movement in 1969-71.
Over the years, The New York Times reported and wrote editorials on these efforts and campaigns. These two Times articles show how public opinion on the topic changed from 1943 to 1971:
George Gallup, “Lower Voting Age is Gaining in Favor” (April 9, 1943)
“60% in Poll Favor Local Voting at 18” (April 25, 1971)
After reading these articles, students might answer the following questions:
What changes do you notice over these years? Consider both the findings and what questions the polls asked.
Does anything surprise you about these findings?
What reason is given for supporting youth voting rights in 1943?
Why did the 1971 poll ask about youth voting only in state and local elections?