Collection ID: MPP26 (VAE3704)
Printable View Printable View

Collection context


Consists of documentation of the movement to lower the voting age to 18 culminating in ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in 1971 and of retrospective interviews and discussions of the movement by those who participated in it.
2.5 linear feet (8 document cartons, 1 small document carton, and 423 GB of digital files.)
Materials are in English.
Preferred citation:

[item and date], [folder], [Subseries, if any], [Series], 26th Amendment Collection, Modern Political Papers Collection, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana


Biographical / Historical:

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which lowered the voting age for all elections to 18, was passed by both houses of Congress in March 1971 and ratified by the requisite three-quarters of the states three months later on July 1. Historical descriptions generally emphasize the speed, implying that its passage was a relatively simple matter largely involving members of Congress. Such was decidedly not the case. As this collection documents, it was prolonged and powerful grassroots work that brought the issue to the fore across the country and forced it across the finish line in a far more complicated process, as is described in the following document from the collection.


The long debate over lowering the voting age in America from 21 to 18 came to light during World War II with the disturbing paradox that young men were called to fight and die for their country but not to vote for their leaders.

In 1943, Georgia became the first state to lower its voting age in local and state elections from 21 to 18. However, states could not change the voting age in federal elections without an act of Congress, where there was interest, but no action.

In 1954, President Eisenhower declared, "For years our citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 have, in time of peril, been summoned to fight for America. They should participate in the political process that produces this fateful summons." Still, nothing progressed, but more states started to take up the issue.

The evolving national campaign from 1968 into 1971 culminated in the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. It is a story of grassroots participatory democracy in action through a broad and diverse coalition of individuals and organizations across the nation, and across the political spectrum, in a time of great national political upheaval and uncertainty.


By 1960, four states had set their voting age below 21 for local and state elections - Georgia and Kentucky to 18, Alaska to 19, Hawaii to 20. These changes did not apply to federal elections. Although there were numerous attempts to bring the issue forward in Congress, nothing happened.

In 1963 President Johnson, in a message to Congress after a report on voter participation, stated that "it is time to look at the compelling force of reason and consider lowering the voting age." In 1966, Solicitor General Archibald Cox, in an article in the Harvard Law Review, concluded that if Congress were to declare that differing voting ages in the states amounted to discrimination under the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court would uphold the law.


1968 will long be remembered by Americans for its political turmoil, violence, and tragedies as the protracted Viet Nam war took a turn for the worse and protests were breaking out throughout the U.S. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and in June, Robert Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet. Students on campuses across the nation were demanding a voice in making change.

Both political parties endorsed the 18-year-old vote in their platforms in 1968, the Republicans by state action and the Democrats by constitutional amendment.

About that time, Let Us Vote (LUV) started a national grassroots campaign and by June 1969 was established in over 400 universities and 3000 high schools across the country, bringing television coverage to the issue. Members testified before state legislatures and Congress and began grassroots campaigns in several states.

The Youth and College Division of the NAACP held a "National Youth Mobilization" rally in Washington, DC in April of 1969, which brought additional national attention to the issue.

The most significant action came when the National Education Association established "Project 18" to create its national campaign. It went to work immediately to take the campaign to teachers and student teachers throughout all 50 states. NEA then mapped out and implemented a strategy to create a broad political coalition, one with the capacity and resources to have an immediate and national impact.

Thus was born the Youth Franchise Coalition (YFC) which engaged a virtually unprecedented diversity of 58 groups with national affiliations to join in. Members included youth organizations (Student NEA, the National Student Association, Young Democrats, College Republicans, YMCA), civil rights groups (NAACP, CORE, etc.), civic reform entities (Common Cause), labor unions (AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers), and other state and national organizations that were pushing a lower voting age. YFC became the umbrella group counted on to devise and implement overall strategies.


The NEA/YFC team conceived a national strategy that included a double focus: work with key states to provide research and strategy for use by state campaigns in their own initiatives to lower their voting age and thus put pressure on Congress, and at the same time, work with key members of Congress to put pressure on their peers to pass a constitutional amendment.

A non-profit Youth Citizenship fund was created to allow tax-deductible contributions for research. Volunteers and pro bono assistance started to show up. The small staff began to reach out to help states with initiatives and to find their friends in Congress. The campaign started to build momentum.

Campaign staffs worked simultaneously with key states and with Congress. Major state campaigns were underway or begun in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. Staff and volunteers continued to raise the issue publicly, [and] politically with the media both through Project 18 and through all the member organizations of the Youth Franchise Coalition.

There was growing commitment and support from key members of Congress. In the Senate, Senators Jennings Randolph, Birch Bayh, Edward Kennedy, Mike Mansfield, and Warren Magnuson played instrumental roles. In the House, Congressmen Abner Mikva (chair of the Judiciary Committee), John Anderson (chair of the Wednesday Group), Don Frazer (chair of the Democratic Study Group), Tom Railsback, Brock Adams, and Don Riegle were some of those who created momentum in that body.

On March 8, 1970, Senator Kennedy took the idea of Archibald Cox forward in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, urging the Senate to lower the voting age by statute. He commended "Senator Jennings Randolph, Senator Mike Mansfield, and Senator Birch Bayh for their extraordinary success in bringing this issue to the forefront among our contemporary national priorities." The renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was up for consideration and, although there was opposition among some Democrats, Republicans, and civil rights groups, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield offered an amendment to lower the voting age to 18, which passed 64-17. The House passed the Act as amended on June 15, 1970. This action effectively lowered the voting age to 18 in federal, state, and local elections.

Upon signing the bill into law, President Richard Nixon stated that he believed the provision to be unconstitutional. Fortunately, a provision for an expedited court review was also contained in the legislation.

The lead case, Oregon v. Mitchell, was united with several other state legal actions and proceeded through a three-court review in the District Court to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court decided, in a 5-4 decision, that Congress did not have the right to regulate the minimum age in state and local elections but only in federal elections. By now it was December 1970.


With the national elections coming up in 1972, and with the Voting Rights Act amendment being declared in part unconstitutional, the specter of a two-tiered election in the states seemed all but unmanageable, and there remained only one way to go - to amend the Constitution.

Newly formed Common Cause, led by John Gardner, stepped in with its Voting Rights Project, and, with further funding for the YFC, the campaign staff moved to Common Cause headquarters. The coalition was broadened to include the League of Women Voters and other national organizations. They worked closely with supporters in Congress, and the team of volunteers traveled the country to prepare the states for the ratification process.

Pressure to act was intense. The time was ripe for Congress to now focus on a constitutional amendment. The only concern was the complexity of gaining state ratification in such a short time in order to avoid chaos in the registration of voters for the 1972 election. The great majority of states were only in session for six months. The two-year campaign by the YFC had stretched everyone to the fullest but had provided the best framework to handle the challenge.

In January 1971, Senator Jennings Randolph introduced the 26th constitutional amendment. Between March and April, the Senate unanimously passed the measure by a vote of 94-0 and the House of Representatives approved it by a volte of 400 to 19. It was immediately sent to the states, where a majority of 38 states was needed to ratify it.

An analysis of the time and durations of legislative sessions provided the framework for action. Arguments and data were prepared, and the race begun. Initially, several states moved to ratify quickly. Then activity slowed down as some states that did not want to lower the voting age pondered the reality of the elections. This required rallying the political forces within each state that had been working over the past two years. Then toward the end, when ratification became inevitable, there was a race to be "on-board" or to be jockeying to be the final state to ratify (Ohio). With the support of the YFC/NEA/CC and the coalition to blanket the country, it became the fastest ratification of any amendment.


By July, the last of the 38 required ratifications was won when Ohio ratified. On July 5, 1971, President Richard Nixon held a signing ceremony in the White House.

With the creation of an archive in 2011, interviews and discussions will fill out this story in greater detail and will consider what legacy and further challenges are to be passed on to new generations.

Scope and Content:

The Documents series consists of the working documents generated by those striving to lower the voting age during the period 1969-1971, predominantly Patricia Keefer and Ian MacGowan. The History series consists of the efforts from 2008 to 2021 of Keefer and MacGowan and others working with them to lower the voting age to build an archive beyond the documents, consisting of video and audio oral history interviews with key players and online webinars discussing the movement and its significance.


The collection is arranged in two series: Documents and History. The Documents series consists of the subseries Organizations, providing information on the various organizational players; the subseries States, providing chronological development within key states; and six subseries tracing the chronology of events at the national level: Pre-Voting Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Supreme Court Decision (Oregon v. Mitchell), Constitutional Amendment, Ratification, and Post-Ratification. The History series consists of a subseries of notes and drafts of histories of the 26th Amendment by others and four subseries capturing retrospective efforts to document that history: 40th Anniversary Project, 40th Anniversary - Interviews, 50th Anniversary Project - Interviews, and 50th Anniversary - Webinars. Some items in the Documents series include post-it notes with information added by the donors during work on the 40th and 50th Anniversary projects.

Rules or conventions:
DACS-Describing Archives: A Content Standard



There are no restrictions governing use of the collection. However, it is in offsite storage, thus arrangements for use must be made in advance. Contact


Indiana University provides the information contained in this collection for non-commercial, personal, or research use only. Any other use, including but not limited to commercial or scholarly reproductions, redistribution, publication or transmission, whether by electronic means or otherwise, without prior written permission of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited by law. Users of the collection are responsible for obtaining the required permissions.


[item and date], [folder], [Subseries, if any], [Series], 26th Amendment Collection, Modern Political Papers Collection, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana

Indiana University Bloomington
Herman B Wells Library E460
1320 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405-7000, United States
Indiana University Bloomington