SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A charter amendment extending voting rights in San Francisco elections to 16- and 17-year-olds will be placed on the November 2020 ballot following a unanimous vote by city supervisors.
If approved by voters, San Francisco would become the first major U.S. city to allow voters as young as 16 to vote in municipal elections.
Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee introduced the charter amendment on behalf of the city’s Youth Commission, a group of youths that advises city supervisors and the mayor on policies and laws having to do with young people.
Yee said in a press statement that voter turnout is lowest among the youngest eligible voters, ages 18-29 both nationwide and locally, with only 30% of eligible young voters having participated in national elections over the past 35 years. Research shows that young people who vote earlier in life are more likely to continue voting.
“Over the several decades I have had the opportunity to work with youth in San Francisco, I have seen that youth can and want to navigate complex issues,” said Yee in a statement. “Earlier this month, 10,000 people joined a youth-led protest at Mission High School to demand justice for George Floyd and an end to the systemic oppression, racism, and injustices that the Black community and other communities of color continue to endure. There’s no question that young people are capable of changing the world for the better. Will we stand alongside them and let their voices be heard?”
In 2013, the Washington, DC suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland became the first U.S. city to lower the voting age to 16. Hyattsville, another DC suburb followed suit. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now allow those who are 17 but will be 18 by the general election to vote in primaries. A handful of countries also allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.
Aside from establishing a lifelong habit of voting, research also shows young people voting makes their parents more likely to vote as well. Critics of lowering the voting age say 16- and 17-year-olds are not mature enough to vote, don’t have enough awareness of civics, history or politics, and don’t have enough life experiences. Conservatives also note that younger voters tend to lean toward more liberal causes.
Supporters of lowering the voting age note that young people largely affected by movements such as Black Lives Matter or issues such as school shootings and social media. In addition, many 16-year-olds work and pay taxes while having no ability to vote on their representation.