The 26th Amendment

This is the fifth and final lesson in a series called “Expanding Voting Rights.” The overall goal of the series is for students to explore the complicated history of voting rights in the United States.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • understand why the youth vote became an issue when it did
  • see how the youth vote affected the 2008 presidential election
  • evaluate the importance of the youth vote today and in coming years
Essential Questions
  • How have voting rights expanded over the course of American history?
  • What role do federal and state governments play in deciding who can and can’t vote?
  • Does voting matter? Why or why not?
  • How important is the youth vote today? How important is it likely to be in the future?
  • Should the voting age be lowered to 16? Why or why not?


Two characteristics of that history stand out. First, in fits and starts, more and more Americans have gained the right to vote. Second, over time, the federal government’s role in securing these rights has expanded considerably.

This lesson explores the most recent constitutional expansion of voting rights: extending them to people between 18 and 21 years of age. Students will read the 26th Amendment and learn about its history. They will view an NBC report from Nov. 5, 2008, that explains how important the youth vote was to the election of Barack Obama. Finally, they will examine the results of a recent study showing that young voters have very different concerns than older voters, and hypothesize about how young voters might affect elections in 2012 and beyond.



franchise [ fran-chahyz ] (noun) the right to vote

abridge [ uh-brij ] (verb) to deprive; to limit


Additional Resources

The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States by Alexander Keyssar



In this lesson, you will learn about how, when and why people who are very close to your age—18 years old—got the right to vote, and you will think about whether young voters have a unique contribution to make to American politics.

1. What does the right to vote mean to you? (Note: Write this question on chart paper and hang on the wall.) That’s a question that Rock the Vote, an organization devoted to engaging young people in politics, asks of a different musician every week. Read the sample quotes on the handout What Does the Right to Vote Mean to You? Then on a sticky note, write your own answer (or answers) to the question. Write only one answer on each note. Then go to the chart paper hung on the wall and post your notes. (Note: Read aloud the different things that students have written.) With your classmates, discuss any patterns you see in the answers. Overall, how important would you say voting is to you and your classmates? What evidence supports your answer?

2. Read The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including the annotations. Then answer the questions that follow to understand the amendment in its historical context.

3. Young voters—many voting for the first time—had a big impact on the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. Watch "Impact of Youth Vote" (see below), which aired on NBC on Nov. 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected president. Work with the person next to you to list the three most significant things you learned from the video. (If necessary, you can watch it again or read the transcript.) Share your pair’s list with another pair, and change your list if you need to. Think about the question you answered regarding the 26th Amendment, about the possible impact that the youth vote might have. Was your hypothesis correct?

4. The NBC report concludes with news correspondent Luke Russert predicting that the youth vote will continue to make a difference in future elections. In November 2011, the Pew Research Center released a report that suggests he may have been right. With a small group, work through the following steps studying the data from the Pew report.

a. One of the biggest changes across generations has to do with the ethnic makeup of the population. Look at Nation’s Race & Ethnicity in 2011 and follow the directions on that handout.

b. Look at Young-Old Voting Gap Largest Since Nixon v. McGovern in 1972 and follow the directions on that handout.

c. (Note: Divide the class into four groups, and assign each group one of The Four Generations: Silent, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials.) With your group, study the document that identifies your group’s traits. Prepare a presentation for the class that shows who your group is and what they’re like. Make your presentation in a way that will help the whole class remember what characterizes the different groups, how each group is leaning politically, and what impact each group could have on the 2012 election.

5. Conduct a survey to see if your classmates fit the profile of millennial voters. If you don’t fit the profile, what do you think accounts for the differences?

a. Based on the Pew data, what impact do you think millennial voters will have in 2012?

b. Based on your class’s data, what impact do you think millennial voters will have in 2012?


NBC Learn Video