The 18-year-old vote provisions of the Voting Rights Act Amendments, Pub. L. 91-285, 84 Stat. 314, are constitutional and enforceable insofar as they pertain to federal elections and unconstitutional and unenforceable insofar as they pertain to state and local elections.
Petitioner state governments invoked the court's original jurisdiction to challenge the constitutionality of amendments to the federal Voting Rights Act, claiming that the statute usurped powers reserved to the states to control their own elections. The statute lowered the minimum age of voters from 21 to 18, and temporarily prohibited the use of literary tests based on a finding by Congress that the tests were to discriminate against voters on account of their color. The statute also barred respondents from disqualifying voters in national elections because of state residency requirements. Petitioners and supporting amici curiae argued that Congress lacked the powers to enact the statute. Respondent federal government and supporting amici curiae argued that a constitutional amendment gave Congress authority to enforce the provisions of that amendment by appropriate legislation.
Is the provision lowering the minimum age of voters in both state and federal elections from 21 to 18 constitutional?
Yes, but only with regard to federal elections.
The court ruled that the voting age provision was invalid as applied to voters in state and local elections, but the voting age and residency provisions were valid for national elections since Congress had the ultimate power to fill its offices under its own laws. The court also upheld the literacy test provision because statistics showed voter registration and voter participation were consistently greater in states without such tests.