Skip to main content

The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution

26th Amendment

The Text

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Meaning

Amendment XXVI gives young adults between the age of eighteen and twenty-one the right to vote. The measure is another in a line of constitutional changes that expanded the right to vote to more citizens. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, most states limited voting to white, male citizens who were over the age of 21.

It took 82 years for African American slaves to gain a constitutional right to vote, 132 years for women’s suffrage and 183 years for those 18 to 21 years old to join the voting population. The impetus for this change was the passage of amendments to the Voting Rights Act in 1970 that set 18 as the minimum voting age for both federal and state elections.

But when the Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Mitchell that the law applied only to federal, not state elections, Congress adopted Amendment XXVI and states quickly ratified it on July 1, 1971.