Being able to vote at eighteen is a relatively new phenomenon in our nation’s history. Many voters would be hard–pressed to identify the twenty–sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but this volume in the Constitutional Amendments Beyond the Bill of Rights series demonstrates its centrality to our current political landscape. It is easy to evoke an image of an altogether different 2008 presidential race without the established enfranchisement of those under 21, an age group that proved particularly powerful in that campaign.
The enervating effect of young voters on the political process underpins the entire text and demonstrates an evolving understanding of both participatory democracy and adulthood. The first segment of the book provides historical background to the 1971 amendment. The notion that "a man old enough to fight was old enough to vote" echoes throughout American history, as the book’s thorough chronological timeline illustrates. As demonstrated in the primary source material incorporated here, that rationale had particular momentum after World War II, with President Eisenhower publicly endorsing the idea in a State of the Union address as early as 1954. The 26th Amendment followed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its 1970 amendments, which had already changed the nature of the electorate by eliminating poll taxes, literacy requirements, and other entrenched limitations to participation. The contemporary response from young people who found themselves with new rights after ratification is particularly compelling because of the first–person perspective.
The discussion of voting rights is savvily embedded among the spectacle of 20th century American politics, featuring personalities such as Edward Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt. The arguments contained within build upon a real understanding of the American political and legislative process, including concepts like equal protection, universal suffrage, and the constitutionality of the amendment based upon evolving Supreme Court interpretations of young people and the election process. Discussions will engage the most libertarian of readers, including a provocative assertion that federal extortion forced states to ratify the amendment to spare the expense of running what would essentially be a second parallel elector system.
In a 21st century context, the right to vote often manifests as an issue of registration for students living on campus. Campus voter blocs come into play in college towns, where an essentially transient population can coordinate to gain disproportionate control of local elections. This book examines various legal strictures informing the establishment of ongoing residency when living in dormitory housing, which may prove helpful for students with practical concerns.
The volume concludes with ongoing assertions that we as a society must further lower the age–based requirement for democratic participation to sixteen. Confronting that sometimes fallacious logic will help students understand the structural limitations to participation in the political process.
Supplementary materials include a chronological appendix of court cases related to the amendment; books, journal articles, and online resources for further information; and a thorough alphabetical index. Recommended for school and public libraries, as the constitutional amendment and its related concepts are not likely to be covered as thoroughly elsewhere.