For along time voting in this country was called a right, but was more of a privilege.
The franchise was accepted as a matter of course for white men, but others — such as women and Black Americans — had to fight to gain access to the polls.
And fight they did.
In the 1960s another group came along with an eye to marking the ballot. The Vietnam War spurred a movement to reduce the legal voting age from 21 to 18.
By 1971, both houses of Congress had adopted a proposed Constitutional amendment to do just that.
The amendment was sent to the states for ratification. Three-fourths of the states had to approve the proposal and it took just three months for them to do so. No other proposed amendment has made it into the Constitution so quickly.
The 26th Amendment officially became part of the U.S. Constitution on July 5, 1971 — 49 year ago today.
In signing the amendment, President Richard Nixon told a group of young people assembled for the ceremony "The reason I believe that your generation, the 11 million new voters, will do so much for America at home is that you will infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose, that this country always needs."
The 26th Amendment carried a lot of promise. Unfortunately, for years voter turnout among young people consistently lagged considerably behind that of older Americans.
That changed in the 2018 midterm elections, though. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voter turnout among those ages 18 to 29 rose from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. That's the biggest gain for any age group.
Good news. Because our Democracy works better when all adult citizens exercise their right to vote.