Bay Area Spotlight: Youth Vote

To truly recognize voting as a fundamental right and address the low voter turnout that currently plagues young voters, FairVote supports lowering the voting age to 16. Empirical evidence suggests that the earlier in life a voter casts their first ballot, the more likely they are to develop voting as a habit. While one’s first reaction might be to question the ability of young voters to cast a meaningful vote, research shows that 16- and 17-year-olds are as informed and engaged in political issues as older voters.

This year, voters in Berkeley and San Francisco voted on two youth vote measures:

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Voters in Berkeley overwhelmingly approved Measure Y1, which gives the City Council the authority to approve a lower voting age for school board elections through a basic ordinance. The measure passed with over 70% of the vote. We would like to congratulate and applaud Berkeley voters for their commitment to extending the franchise to youth.

Extending voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is consistent with the fact that turning 16 has special significance in our culture. At age 16, youth can drive, pay taxes, and for the first time work without any restriction on hours. It’s also a matter of fairness: when unable to vote until turning 18, some citizens won’t have a chance to vote for their mayor until they are almost 22.

Unfortunately, voters in San Francisco voted down Measure F, a San Francisco charter amendment that would have expanded voting rights to 16- and 17- year old citizens on local and school board elections. The measure failed to pass with only 47.9% of voters supporting the measure. 52.1% of San Francisco voters opposed Measure F.

If 16- and 17-year olds register to vote at the same rate as the general population — about 57% of registered voters cast their ballots in June, according to the Department of Elections — voter registration would increase by just 1% in San Francisco, City Controller Ben Rosenfield found. “It’s not going to make a difference in an election, but what it’s really about is you try to drive up participation rates and informed voting,” said Supervisor John Avalos, a vocal proponent of Measure F.

 

A detailed study of voters' ages and habits in Denmark found that 18-year-olds were far more likely to cast their "first vote" than 19-year-olds, and that every month of extra age in those years resulted in a decline in "first vote" turnout. Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections will enable them to vote before leaving home and high school, and establish a lifelong habit of voting.

The passage of measure Y1 in Berkeley is a resounding victory for the youth led campaign. Youth leaders will continue working with city council members to ensure the council implements the policy change in a timely manner.

For San Francisco, we are encouraged by the efforts of the San Francisco Youth Commission, and the Yes on F campaign, which released a press release stating, “Unfortunately, the proposition did not pass by a very narrow margin. But the work continues. The Board of Education will work to ensure that all young people receive a robust civics education. We need to do more as a country to inspire and educate young people to be active citizens, and the City of San Francisco will take a national lead on this effort, inspired by all the youth that made this their issue over the last few months.”

Photo Courtesy: Vote 16