Youth's Battle for the Ballot: A History of Voting Age in America

By Wendell W. Cultice | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Youth Armed with the Ballot (1971-91)

Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.

-- Franklin D. Roosevelt

June 30, 1971, marked the beginning of a new era in American politics. Eleven and one-half million young Americans at the age of 18 won the fight to vote in all elections--local, state, and national. The United States became the fifty-first nation to extend voting rights and political power to 18-year- olds.


AMERICA'S NEW CONSTITUENTS

The ratification of the Twenty-sixth Amendment left many questions unanswered about college residency requirements, extension of the absentee ballot, majority rights and privileges, qualifications for public offices, jury duty, electors, soldier voting arrangements, among others. Only the passage of time would permit a valid assessment of the amendment's impact on voting patterns, attitudes, turnout at the polls, and interest in local elections.

According to the Census Bureau, an estimated 25 million people under 25 years of age were potential first-time voters in the 1972 presidential elections. This represented about 18 percent of the total electorate of 140 million and included both the 11 million newly enfranchised 18- to 20-year- olds and about 14 million people aged 21 to 25 who were eligible to vote in 1968.

The Democratic and Republican parties could not afford to ignore the potential impact of the newly enfranchised young voters in preparing for

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