US & World

The 26th Amendment was certified 30 years ago

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The right to vote has evolved throughout American history. First it belonged solely to white, male property owners 21 and older. Later constitutional amendments expanded the right to African American men, then to all women. Starting 30 years ago today, the president certified one more amendment that granted voting rights to Americans as young as 18.

Then, as now, the United States was engaged in foreign conflict. Most of the troops in Vietnam had been drafted, and many Americans asked, “if 18- and 19-year-olds are being sent off to fight, why can’t they be eligible to vote?”

President Richard Nixon responded by certifying the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The states ratified it in a record two months. In the next presidential election year, about half the 11 million eligible young voters cast ballots. Contrary to what pundits at the time predicted about those voters, Nixon won re-election in a landslide.

"Time Magazine" proclaimed 2008 the year of the youth voter. That season’s presidential campaign mobilized more young voters than had been seen in decades.

Even so, the nonprofit Project Vote reported that only 49 percent of American 18-year-olds were registered to vote that November – almost 22 points lower than the population as a whole. The jury’s still out on whether that trend will continue in next year’s presidential election.