Both the statewide ballot measure Proposition 18 and county ballot measure Proposition G will be up for voters to decide on this election cycle. If Prop G passes, it would grant an estimated 30,000-40,000 San Franciscans the right to vote (James Wyatt / Golden Gate Xpress) (James Wyatt)
Both the statewide ballot measure Proposition 18 and county ballot measure Proposition G will be up for voters to decide on this election cycle. If Prop G passes, it would grant an estimated 30,000-40,000 San Franciscans the right to vote (James Wyatt / Golden Gate Xpress)

James Wyatt

California youth seek to overturn aged-out voting statute

October 28, 2020

This election cycle, some California 17 year olds are being given the opportunity to potentially vote.

Proposition 18, if passed, would allow 17 year olds who turn 18 between general and primary elections to vote in general elections while still 17. The proposition seeks to expand the electorate in the state; While there is no exact count for how many 17 year olds would become eligible voters, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health estimates there are over 2 million people in the state of California between the ages of 14 and 17.

“I would say that a lot of young people, there’s a sense of … it’s deflating to start to fine tune your political voice and understand what your opinions are on certain pieces of legislation, knowing that they impact you directly, but then not being able to vote on them,” San Francisco Board of Supervisors Youth Commissioner Arianna Nassiri said. “So it kind of just feels like you know, you’re watching you’re passively watching government unfold, and how can you have a part in it if you can’t vote?”

In addition to being on the youth commission, Nassiri, who began her political career at the age of 12 with an internship at now-Mayor London Breed’s office, is the campaign manager food “Vote16SF,” a campaign centered around the notion of allowing 16 year olds in San Francisco the right to vote in municipal elections. This appeared on the ballot in 2016 as Proposition F, and is now back as Proposition G.

The Georgetown University freshman said that if passed, Proposition G would grant voting rights to an estimated 30,000-40,000 San Franciscans.

Nassiri said that these propositions seek to follow what 18 other states in the U.S., along with Washington D.C., have already established. She also looks toward other countries with lower voting ages, citing Scotland as an example.

“Scotland was a country that lowered their voting age right before their independence referendum to allow 16-17 year olds to vote,” Nassiri said. “And what we saw is that over half of young people — I believe it was closer to 70% of young people — were voting along the lines of their personal best interest.”

Following the ruling of allowing 16 and 17 years old to vote in Scotland, the country saw record numbers of voter participation. Election organizers counted 3.6 million votes in Sept. 2014, with 100,000 from the newly-enfranchised demographic.

Groups like the Election Integrity Project, which oppose the passing of Proposition 18, argue that 17 year olds are not old enough to understand the complexities of ballot measures and too heavily influenced by their immediate surroundings to make decisions based on their own free will.

“This again makes it less likely that they would be expressing their own, independently thought-out choices were they to be allowed to vote,” the group said.

The Election Integrity Project did not respond for comment prior to publication.

Nassiri added that with the passing of Proposition 18, high school civics and government classes would not only become more relevant, but the curriculum would be pressured to change in order to better prepare and educate students for voting.

“By allowing 16-17 year olds to vote, you’re actually increasing the median number Have civics education years that the electorate has received because average voters right now have not received any in a formal setting,” she said.”

Rebecca Eissler, political science professor at SF State, noted that ages used for voting ages are entirely dependent on a society’s culture, and she described these set ages as “arbitrary.”

“The voting age used to be 21; It was lowered to 18 in the wake of Vietnam,” Eissler said. “If young people were going to be sent to war to die, potentially for their country, then they should have a say in who the leaders are that are making those decisions.

“I’ve seen many groups who are fighting to lower the voting age saying, ‘Look, the decisions that are being made now, relating to guns, relating to climate change, directly impact people who are in that 16- to 18-year-old window. They should have a say about who makes the decisions,’” she said. 

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