Richmond Youth Council aims to lower voting age
on November 20, 2015
Sixteen-year-olds can drive and wash their cars, pay taxes from working their minimum wage jobs, consent to certain medical treatment and be criminally charged as adults. Now, they want to vote too.
A city-appointed advisory board of Richmond youth recently decided to join San Francisco youth in a campaign called “16 in ’16,” which seeks to lower the voting age to 16 in municipal and school board elections. A new commission of members drawn from San Francisco, Richmond youth councils and local school boards will lead the initiative.
“It’s pathetic—17-year-olds can enlist in the military,” with parental consent, “but can’t pick their elected officials,” said Joseph Jackson, chair of the Richmond Youth Council.
Critics of the 16 in ’16 campaign argue that teenagers lack the maturity to vote. Although no organized opposition seems to have formed yet, interviews with a few Richmond adults downtown found plenty of skeptics.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt hasn’t ruled out support, but is looking for more information before taking a stand.
“I have encouraged them to continue to explore it,” Butt said.
Jackson’s council wants to hold a quarterly town hall and youth summit to build more political awareness and answer the skeptics.
San Francisco teenagers got the campaign started in the East Bay by making a presentation to their Richmond counterparts. The visitors made the case that teenagers pay taxes and may have as much at stake in policy debates as adults. Backers of voting rights for 16-year-olds also want to create what they call a “trickle-up effect.”
When teenagers take part in local elections, chances increase that their parents will too, raising voter turnout, especially among low-income immigrants. That builds more socially conscious voters, according to the National Youth Rights Association.
During the last election cycle, about 17,000 of Richmond’s 43,000 registered voters cast a ballot. Jackson said the turnout would improve if younger voters are allowed into the voting booths.
The campaign also claims that teenagers would gain a deeper understanding of civic affairs if they are able to participate in elections while still in school. Voting is more likely to develop into a lifelong habit, if it starts with lessons learned in high school, according to Peter Levine, associate dean for research at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
San Francisco would become the largest U.S. city to allow high school juniors to vote if 16 in ‘16 succeeds. During the past two years, two cities in Maryland, Hyattsville and Takoma Park, lowered their voting ages, and the District of Columbia is also considering it. Other U.S. cities are expected to follow.
But California is different.
The U.S. Constitution does not prevent lowering the voting age to 16, but California Elections code Section 2000 states voting eligibility is “any person who will be at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election.”
It would take a decision by the state Legislature to change voter qualifications for statewide elections next year. And all of those legislators are adults.
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