On July 5, 1971, President Nixon, following the signing of Administrator of General Services Robert L. Kunzig and along with three members of the choir “Young Americans in Concert,” signed the certification of the 26th Amendment. This historic event took place in the East Room of the White House and made official the amendment that enfranchised US citizens between the ages of 18 and 21, numbering as many as 11 million new voters.
The proposition of the 26th Amendment arose from the protests of the Vietnam War. Males over the age of 18 were eligible to be drafted for the war and, naturally, people began to question why young men of 18, 19, and 20 years of age were allowed, even forced, to fight and die for their country, and yet were unable to cast votes for those men and women who would ultimately make the decisions that dictated their futures.
Congress had previously attempted to remedy this wrong in 1970 by passing an extension to the 1965 Voting Rights Act that gave the vote to all persons 18 or older, in all elections, on all levels. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress only had the power to lower the voting age for national elections, not the state or local levels. Within months of the ruling, Congress passed the 26th Amendment. It was ratified just 100 days later.
In President Nixon’s final remarks to those assembled in the East Room on that historic day included praise for American’s youth. It was they, he believed, who would infuse into the country “some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose.”