‘ Old Enough to Vote’


Pairing a Primary & Secondary Source

Youth voter turnout surged in the 2020 election. A look back at how young people gained the right to vote 50 years ago.

Before Reading

1. Set Focus
Pose this essential question: Why does voting matter in a democracy?

2. List Vocabulary
Share some of the challenging vocabulary words in the article (see below). Encourage students to use context to infer meanings as they read.

  • garner (p. 19)
  • radical (p. 20)
  • propel (p. 20)
  • defy (p. 20)
  • ensued (p. 20)
  • infusion (p. 21)

3. Engage
Have students share ideas on how their lives are affected by elected officials. Then ask: Is the right to vote important to you? Why or why not?

Analyze the Article

4. Read and Discuss
Ask students to read the Upfront article about the youth voting rights movement and the 26th Amendment. Review why the article is a secondary source. (It was written by someone who didn’t personally experience or witness the events.) Then pose these critical-thinking questions:

  • When did the movement to lower the voting age begin? When did it become a stronger movement? Why? (The movement began during World War II, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the draft age from 21 to 18. Young people believed that if they were old enough to fight, then they were old enough to vote. The movement grew stronger during the Vietnam War, which dragged on for years and became less popular each year. In addition, voting rights became part of a larger call for civil rights during this time.) 
  • How was the movement for youth voting rights similar to and different from other movements of the time? (The youth voting rights movement was similar to other movements in that it was led by students. It was different from other movements in the tactics that were used. Instead of organizing a lot of marches and occupying buildings, students fighting to lower the voting age lobbied elected officials, wrote letters, signed petitions, and made statements before state governments and Congress.)
  • A 1967 editorial claimed that “The requirements for a good soldier and for a good voter are not the same.” Is this a valid point when debating what the voting age should be? Why or why not? (Students’ responses will vary, but they should put forth well-reasoned opinions. They should support their points with relevant examples from outside the text and use text evidence when possible.)
  • Based on details in the article, why do you think the 26th Amendment was ratified in record time? (Students’ responses will vary, but they should support their points with text evidence. Responses may include: Lowering the voting age had bipartisan support; the extension of the Voting Rights Act created logistical woes and extra costs that could be resolved only by passage of the 26th Amendment.)

5. Use the Primary Sources

Project or distribute the PDF A Matter of Fairness (or assign it in Google Classroom), which features excerpts from the statement made by Jack McDonald, chairman of the Young Republican National Federation, at a congressional hearing in 1968 on the topic of lowering the voting age to 18. Discuss what makes the letter a primary source. (It provides firsthand evidence concerning the topic.) Have students read the excerpts and answer the questions below (which appear on the PDF without answers).

  • How would you describe the tone and purpose of these excerpts from McDonald’s statement? (The tone can be described as adamant yet respectful. The purpose is to convince Congress to lower the voting age.)
  • What is the common theme among the reasons McDonald gives for lowering the voting age? (The common theme is that fairness dictates that the voting age be lowered. McDonald reasons that if 18-year-olds are expected to serve in the military, pay taxes, and service the debt from federal spending, then they should be allowed to vote for those who make these policy decisions.)
  • What counterarguments does McDonald anticipate? How does he rebut them? (First, McDonald anticipates that those against lowering the voting age will argue that young people are not informed enough to vote. He rebuts this by suggesting that young people could be made to be even more informed than their elders through a senior year civics class. Second, McDonald anticipates that critics will argue that young people are too irresponsible to vote, based on the image of the protester. His response is that the media have magnified the significance of protesters and that most young people do not participate in protests and are focused on their futures.)
  • What is McDonald alluding to by mentioning Haight-Ashbury and Columbia University? (Briefly research as needed.) What point do these allusions emphasize? (He is alluding to the counterculture movement and radical protesters. He makes these allusions to emphasize that most young people are not members of these groups.)
  • Based on the Upfront article and the excerpts from McDonald’s statement, why do you think the movement to lower the voting age had bipartisan support? (Students’ responses will vary, but they should support their ideas with evidence from both texts.)

Extend & Assess

6. Writing Prompt
Why do you think young people have historically voted at a lower rate than older voters? What can be done to maintain the high youth voter turnout in the 2020 election in future elections? Explain.

7. Quiz
Use the quiz to assess comprehension.

8. Classroom Debate
Should citizens be fined for not voting?

9. Paired Text
Have students read the YA edition of One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally. Then, using the discussion guide included in the book, lead students in a discussion about the history of voter suppression in the U.S. and what can be done to protect voting rights.

Download a PDF of this Lesson Plan