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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

SF Proposes 16-Year-Old Voting Age

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A San Francisco city supervisor wants to reduce the voting age to 16 for municipal and school district elections.

City Supervisor John Avalos said that the complexity of young people's lives and school work has prepared them to evaluate local ballot issues, and that early participation in elections makes for more civic-minded adults.

The city's Youth Commission passed a resolution in January calling on the Board of Supervisors to put a measure on the local ballot that would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote on municipal issues, but not state and federal decisions.

Avalos needs six of the board's 11 supervisors to agree with him to send the resolution to voters.

"Voting is a good opportunity for young people to learn early on about their ability to influence the elections and to be civically engaged at an earlier age," Avalos said.

He said that if 16- and 17 year-olds vote, "they will be more consistent voters throughout their adulthood."

Frustration drove a member of the Youth Commission to write the resolution.

Joshua Cardenas, who was a minor during the November 2014 election, wrote, "Upon turning 16, young people can drive, work without limitations on hours, pay taxes, take classes on government in school, are subject to adult criminal charges, and yet are denied the right to vote."

The argument echoes the reasons behind the Constitution's 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age across the country from 21 to 18. Having young people fight in Vietnam but depriving them of the right to vote struck those who ratified and adopted the amendment in 1971 as unfair.

Cardenas' resolution cites studies claiming that "16-year-olds possess roughly the same political knowledge as 21-year-olds and come close to the average for all adults."

The resolution also says that including more teenagers in the electorate is a way to counter the aging of the San Francisco's population.

In 2013, Takoma Park, Md., a city of roughly 17,000, was the first U.S. municipality to lower the voting age to 16.

"It's about expanding the right to vote to a younger age of people who have actually demonstrated a strong effectiveness in changing policy and changing how their communities are served by government," said Avalos, who has been active in youth issues for nearly 20 years.

In response to comments that the proposed legislation is an effort to expand the progressive voting base, Avalos said: "There's absolutely no guarantee that young people vote progressive or moderate. It's issue by issue and candidate by candidate."

The City Attorney's Office has indicated that it will defend the amendment if it is challenged in court.

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