July 1, 1971 saw the 26th amendment, which reduced the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, and millions of college-age Americans were given the right to vote.
40 years later, lawmakers are attacking this Constitutional right by introducing so-called voter ID bills. These bills require voters to show specific types of photo identification at the polls, a requirement that 18 percent of young people in the United States currently do not meet.
Many laws also limit the use of student ID cards as acceptable forms of identification. The student activism that led to the passage of the 26th Amendment should inspire and direct student activism today to protect our rights.
During the Vietnam War, young soldiers and concerned student activists voiced their discontent with the status quo. They were old enough to be drafted and fight in the war, but not given the power to determine who made decisions on their behalf. They joined together to create the slogan “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” and passed a resolution in 1967 supporting the 18-year-old voting age.
In 1969, the National Education Association initiated its campaign for the resolution, called Project 18, teaming with organizations like the YMCA, AFL-CIO and NAACP to create the Youth Franchise Coalition to lobby for a constitutional amendment. “We were asking them to include people in the electorate who might vote against them. But, in fact, we convinced a great majority of legislators to do that,” said Les Francis, the director of Project 18.
In 1971, the Senate passed a resolution to lower the voting age by three years with a 94-0 vote. The House concurred 13 days later. Within fourth months, three-fourths of the state ratified the amendment making the proposed amendment the fastest passed amendment in history. On July 1, 1971 President Richard Nixon signed the amendment into law.
Millions of young people were able to vote in the 1972 election. And young advocates in the 1970s pushed Congress to pass the resolution despite the possibility that its passage might mean that these students would vote Democratic, showing that young people have the power to work within the system to achieve change.
Today’s young people may be turned away at the polls if these Voter ID laws are enforced. Young people must push lawmakers to continue to support their right to have a voice in American democracy regardless of political affiliation, race, class, or age.