By Derrick Dyess, President/CEO, Promote the Vote
Over the history of the United States, more Americans won the right to vote, and the age when they were allowed to vote was lowered over time. Prior to the Civil War, there were no federal laws requiring an age to vote. Shortly after the Civil War, in 1868, the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified. This amendment allowed men, who were at least 21-years-old, to vote. This right would not be granted to women until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. It would be more than a century after the ratification of the 14th Amendment before voting rights would be expanded again by the lowering of the age requirement to 18 years old.
So why did voter age restrictions lower from 21 to 18? There are several reasons, and all are largely due to the times and changing circumstances. Specifically, a movement to lower the voting age to 18 was born out of the revolutionary 1960s and continued escalation of the Vietnam War. Many young Americans, younger than 21, had been fighting and dying in Vietnam. They were called to serve without having the right to cast votes that affected them directly. These young men and women demanded the right to vote. They argued that, if they can be drafted and sent off to war, then they absolutely deserve the right and ability to have a say in politics through voting. So, following almost a decade of the Vietnam conflict, the voting age would be lowered to 18 under the Voting Rights Act of 1970.
This period of U.S. history, much like today, had an unprecedented number of young adults becoming politically engaged. These young Americans drove the movement for lowering the voting age, and the bill passed through the U.S. House in 1971, with 92.6% voting to approve. The 26th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution granted “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridges by the United States or by any State on account of age.” This amendment passed through Congress on March 23, 1971. The bill was ratified on July 1, 1971 and was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
Since this change, the question of lowering the voting age even further has been discussed, more so within single states for their state and local elections only. The push is not nearly as powerful of that born out of the 1960s. The argument to lower the voting age again to 16 is usually accompanied with the reference that many teenagers are employed, and pay their fair share of taxes. Although that is a valid point, it is unlikely to result in a lowering of the voting age limit. For such an act to move forward, there must be a passionate movement to draw the attention of the general public to the issue. To date, there is no such movement that can rival the intensity of young activists during the Vietnam Era.
Derrick Dyess is from Bassfield, MS and currently resides in Diamondhead, MS. Derrick served in the United States Coast Guard until a service connected disability forced him into permanent retirement as a decorated Veteran of the US Armed Forces. Since his service, he earned his Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Political Science. During his academic career he received numbers accolades for academic excellence. He earned the Trent Lott Scholarship Award, Political Science Outstanding Student of the Year for 2017-2018, Golden PRIDE Award, induction into the Gama Beta Phi Honors Society. In 2018, he was awarded the Judge R. J. Bishop Award in recognition of overcoming economic hardships in the pursuit of education. He has since worked conducting political research, analysis and provided recommendations of strategy for political campaigns.