By Miriam Raftery
February 14, 2016 (San Diego) -- Should teenagers be allowed to vote? Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez thinks so – at least in some cases.
Last week, the San Diego Democrat held a rally on the state capitol steps to announce she has introduced an amendment to California’s constitution that would give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in their local high school board and community college district board elections.
She says, “These young adults are directly impacted by decisions made by local education boards, and deserve to have a voice – especially in families where the students represent the first generation of voters.” She adds, “They’re ready to be heard, and their school board representatives should be ready to listen.”
Also speaking at the rally were co-authors of the Vote @ 16 proposal, which is known as Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7, along with education leaders and representatives of minority groups supporting the bill.
Opponents have voiced concerns over whether 16-year-olds are mature enough to make such important decisions. Some Republicans have criticized the proposal as a ploy by Democrats to boost voter turnout among minorities, traditional Democratic constituencies, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
But other experts believe boosting voter turnout is a positive idea.
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan group that works to improve the election process, has said the proposal could instill lifelong voting habits. Some research backs up that idea, suggesting that allowing 16-year-olds to vote to lead to greater civic engagement and discussions with families at home that could increase voter turnout overall.
In 2014, the United Nations called for countries to increase their engagement efforts with young people in democratic processes and Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and Washington have all considered proposals to lower the voting age. Two cities in Maryland – Takoma Park and Hyattsville – have actually had success in lowering the voting age by amending their city charters, and in 2013, the turnout of newly enfranchised voters in Takoma Park was nearly double the turnout of voters over age 18.
Luis Vivero, a high school student, had this to say. “We are not only the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. We are the next visionaries of the world.”
While these youth are directly impacted by the decisions of school board members and those governing community college boards, they have to rely on their parents to vote for the elected officials who make those decisions.
Moreover, many students who are U.S. citizens have parents who are not able to vote in elections. This leaves these students whom society has deemed responsible enough to drive, work, and pay taxes without meaningful representation in decisions which impact their daily lives in school and may mean these local decisions are neglecting a significant part of the community.