Vote Now

From 21 to 18, the Right to Vote for Young People Didn't Happen Overnight

As part of our Vote Now series, VICE Impact will feature stories that highlight historic moments of voter expansion in the US.

by Impact Staff
Dec 1 2017, 5:00pm

Jean-Luc Bonifay

In the U.S., turning 18 is a significant milestone. It means that you’re able to vote, but that wasn’t always the case. Prior to 1971 the minimum voting age set by most states was 21. At the height of the Vietnam War, when young men were drafted into the military, many protested the fact that the government considered them old enough to fight for their country but not old enough to have a say in how their country was run.

The fight to lower the voting age didn’t start with the controversial war in Vietnam. This has been a contentious issue since at least World War II when then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the conscription age to 18. The rallying cry, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” came into fashion and the state of Georgia lowered its voting age from 21 to 18 in 1943.

Amidst the upheaval caused by the Vietnam War, Congress lowered the voting age as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1970 but they didn’t have the final say. The final decision came one year later from the Supreme Court in the case of Oregon v. Mitchell, in which the high court determined that Congress had the power to set the voting age for federal races but not for state or local ones.

When it comes to participating in elections, the U.S. doesn’t have the best track record-- especially young voters-- but young politically engaged Americans fought for the right vote for decades, and your voice is needed now more than ever.

Voting is one of the most meaningful forms of civic engagement. VICE Impact has partnered with Democracy Works in their Turbo Vote campaign to get people to register and vote. Register now so you can participate in a fundamental American right.