Passage of the 26th Amendment

Passage of the 26th Amendment

“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote!”

March for the right for 18-year-olds to vote, Seattle 1969 | Source: National Education Association
Newspaper headline from The Springfield Union, Massachusetts- July 1, 1971 | Source: rarenewspapers.com
Patricia Keefer at her office in Washington, D.C. in 1971, holding up placards urging 18-year-olds (who have just received to right to vote) to use their power and vote. | Source: Bettmann / Getty Images, retrieved via TIME Magazine
President Richard Nixon signs the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States | Source: AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi
26th Amendment Congressional Joint Resolution | Source: The National Archives
March for the right for 18-year-olds to vote, Seattle 1969 | Source: National Education Association
Newspaper headline from The Springfield Union, Massachusetts- July 1, 1971 | Source: rarenewspapers.com
Patricia Keefer at her office in Washington, D.C. in 1971, holding up placards urging 18-year-olds (who have just received to right to vote) to use their power and vote. | Source: Bettmann / Getty Images, retrieved via TIME Magazine
President Richard Nixon signs the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States | Source: AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi
26th Amendment Congressional Joint Resolution | Source: The National Archives

Passage of the 26th Amendment

Essential Questions

The following essential questions provide a framework for exploring this unit’s main ideas and themes

  • What has the fight for voting rights looked like for young people in history?
  • What are some contemporary barriers to voting that young people face?

New Jersey Student Learning Standards

The materials and suggested lesson plan below satisfy the following New Jersey Student Learning Standards:

 6.1.12.CivicsDP.13.a: Analyze the effectiveness of national legislation, policies, and Supreme Court decisions in promoting civil liberties and equal opportunities (i.e., the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Rights Amendment, Title VII, Title IX, Affirmative Action, Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade).

6.1.12.CivicsPR.10.a: Analyze how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to define and expand individual rights and use evidence to document the long-term impact of these decisions on the protection of civil and human rights.

6.1.12.CivicsPI.14.c: Analyze how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to define and expand individual rights and use evidence to document the long-term impact of these decisions on the protection of civil and human rights.

Lesson Module

Goal and Learning Objectives: The goal of this lesson module is for educators to be able to teach the history of  youth enfranchisement in the U.S. by giving students the opportunity to examine the role of young people at critical points in our nation’s history. We also want students to be able articulate their thoughts about the impact of Millennial and Gen-Z voting behavior on contemporary politics. 

Content: To meet this goal, we provide resources and information designed to explore the important role that younger generations play in society and in politics. Included are timelines, biographies of key figures, and external resources to help spark classroom discussions on the issue of youth enfranchisement. 

Activity I: History

Context: “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was a slogan first heard during WWII after the creation of the first peacetime military draft in U.S. history. The saying was adopted by student activists during the Vietnam War era in protest of being old enough to be drafted but not old enough to vote. In 1971, the 26th amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, bringing the highest amount (55%) of 18 to 29 year-old voters to the polls in American history during the 1972 elections. The 26th Amendment enfranchised nearly 11 million Americans who were considered old enough to serve in the military but too young to vote. Young adult voting rates have fluctuated since enfranchisement, but voters  between the ages of 18 and 24 have consistently voted at lower rates than all other age groups. However, in the 2018 midterm elections, voter turnout among 18-29 year olds went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group, according to the United States Census Bureau. 

Instructions: Use the timeline to introduce the class to the history of the amendment. If time permits, divide the class into groups and have them read the 26th Amendment and explore Nixon’s speech at the amendment ceremony, located in the ‘resources’ section on the sidebar.

Timeline

Activity II: Key Figures

Instructions: This activity gives students the opportunity to learn about the key figures involved in the passage of the 26th Amendment. Divide the class into small groups and have them discuss the figures on our Key Figures page and the downloadable PDFs with more information. Have students answer and think through the discussion questions and then share their answers and thoughts with the whole class. 

Key Figures

  • Who were the key figures and why are they important to the ultimate passage of the 26th Amendment?

Activity III: Key Court Case

Key Court Case: In 1970, President Nixon signed a series of amendments to the Voting Rights Act, including a provision that would lower the voting age in all states to 18. However, three states – Idaho, Oregon, and Texas – argued that it was unconstitutional. The resulting debate ended in Oregon v. Mitchell, which determined that the amendments to the Voting Rights Act only apply to federal level elections, and states have the right to decide if they want to lower the voting age for state elections. This case is important because it highlighted the need for a constitutional amendment that would standardize the voting age at the state and federal level. Learn more about the case and the opinions of the Supreme Court here.

Instructions: Have students break into groups and explore the arguments made by the Supreme Court. either individually or in groups, have them read either the majority opinion or the dissent and defend the legal reasoning for their respective sides. Then have them answer the discussion questions below. 

Analyzing the court case & listening to the oral arguments

  • Do you think the Supreme Court made the right decision in Oregon v. Mitchell?
  • Consider both sides – what are some arguments for and against allowing lowering the voting age?

Activity IV: Hands on Activities

Instructions: the activities below are designed to get students thinking about one of the key questions of this module – what are the barriers to voting that young people face today? We offer two hands on activities. The first activity gives students a chance to hear the different arguments for and against lowering the voting age to 16. The second activity asks students to explore the material and web content that shows different state requirements for voting.

Pick one (or both!) of the activities below:

Option 1: Expanding Voting Rights to 16 Year Olds

Have your students explore the following resources that offer different view points on lowering the voting age to 16. Split them into groups and have them answer questions related to lowering the voting age using the Socratic Seminar Method

Overview of the Arguments Around Lowering the Voting Age: 

Overview of the debates around lowering the voting age

States that have lowered the voting age for local elections

In Favor: 

Opposed: 

Discussion Questions 

  • Should 16 / 17 year olds be allowed to vote? Why or why not?
  • What issues do you think are most important to young people right now?

Option 2: Voting Rights and Barriers to Participation

Split the students into groups, and have them select a few states to research using the links below. Have them report back the requirements for voting (registration deadline, ID requirements, voting locations, etc). Then, have them think through and answer the discussion questions. 

RU Voting National

Campus Vote Project

Discussion Questions:

  • What electoral reforms do you think would make it easier for young people to turn out to vote?
  • Why do you think so many young people don’t vote in midterm elections? And, why do you think young people vote less frequently than other age groups? List as many reasons as you can.

Materials

Don’t have time to use these activities? Do you already have a lesson plan fort this topic?

Here are links to the materials presented in the above activities that can be used anyway you see fit!

Timeline

Key Figures