In March 1971, Congress passed the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In January 2015, fifteen youth on the San Francisco Youth Commission, a city-mandated body that advises the Mayor and Board of Supervisors, are seeking to lower San Francisco’s voting age from 18 to 16.
Leading the initiative is Joshua Cardenas, District 11 Appointee. Cardenas, a senior at Riordan High School, authored a resolution to urge Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors to lower the voting age to 16 for municipal and school district elections.
Cardenas’s resolution also urges the Mayor and Board of Supervisors to ask state representatives to reduce the state voting age to 16 through a constitutional state referendum.
When asked why he wrote the resolution, Cardenas said, “I believe that young people here in San Francisco deserve the right to vote. Youth organizations and youth in San Francisco are very engaged with their city and they have shown that they have the maturity and intelligence to vote in municipal and school district elections. Voting is not above young people’s intellectual capacity as shown by research. When you give young people the right to vote, they’re willing to take a chance.”
“Also 16 year olds are allowed to drive, they pay taxes, they’re subject to adult criminal charges, and yet are denied the vote, so if they are subject to adult criminal charges and can drive, then we have shown that they are responsible as adults. Their votes are not of lesser quality, meaning they can accurately choose the candidates to represent their interests and attitudes.”
As of mid-January, this resolution has gained the support of two Supervisors and the full Youth Commission. On January 5, 2015 at a full Youth Commission meeting, commissioners supported the resolution in a 14-1 vote.
Key supervisors supporting lowering San Francisco’s voting age are District 11 Supervisor John Avalos and District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar.
Cardenas says, “So far, Supervisor John Avalos and Eric Mar have both expressed support on this. They’re currently working with the state attorney’s office to see whether this is legal or not…to see how they can create language that permits the city to lower the voting age by itself — by a municipality.”
In a statement to The San Francisco Examiner, Avalos said, “If we get the green light, I’m likely to submit — with the Youth Commission’s support — a charter amendment for discussion at the Board of Supervisors.”
“Young people do great work, and they have been part of the changed process in the city for a long time,” Avalos continued.
Similarly, Mar said in a statement, “Expanding voting rights to 16-year-olds encourages real, lifelong political participation and gives them a voice government often ignores.”
The San Francisco Youth Commission was swayed by the immense amount of research supporting the benefits of lowering the voting age. In his resolution, Cardenas writes, “Upon turning 16, young people can drive, work without limitations on hours, pay taxes, take classes on government in school, are subject to adult criminal charges, and yet are denied the right to vote.”
Studies show that 16 year olds possess roughly the same political knowledge as 21 year olds. They are competent and mature enough to make well-informed decisions that will influence their life and the broader electorate. In The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins from Rutgers University argue that those who begin voting as young people will be more likely to continue civic engagement throughout their lives than those who begin voting later, increasing interest and voter turnout in future elections.
The San Francisco Youth Commission has high hopes for its resolution to move up to the Board of Supervisors and become real legislation. Currently, only two cities in the U.S., Takoma Park, Maryland and Hyattsville, Maryland, have legal voting ages of 16.
Cardenas applauds these efforts, saying, “In Takoma Park, the turnout among 16 year olds was four times the overall turnout in Takoma Park — 44% as compared to 11%.”
Currently, Cardenas and the Commission are working with community and national partners, like the director of Youth for National Change and young leaders who worked on the campaign to lower the voting age in Takomah Park, Maryland.
The Youth Commission hopes San Francisco will be the third city to lower its voting age. In the past, the Youth Commission has been successful in producing fruitful resolutions, such as Free Muni for Youth and the Youth Voice Policy, resolutions that were sponsored by key supervisors and put into action. With Cardenas’s resolution, the Youth Commission hopes to set precedents for other cities around the nation.