Youth Vote in School Board Elections
Lowers the voting age to 16 for Oakland Unified School District Board of Education elections.
Amends the Oakland City Charter to allow the City Council to adopt an ordinance lowering the voting age to 16 for Oakland Unified School District Board of Education elections.
What the Measure Would Do
Measure QQ would amend the Oakland City Charter to authorize the City Council to adopt an ordinance permitting individuals aged 16 and older, who are United States citizens and residents of Oakland, to vote in Oakland Unified School District Board of Education elections. Once the Oakland City Council adopts the ordinance, approximately 8,000 additional citizens will be eligible to vote in school board elections.
The cost implications of this measure are minimal, as the processes necessary to register 16- and 17-year-olds and keep separate voter rolls (for groups permitted to vote on one part of a ballot but not another) already exist.
The Oakland School Board is composed of seven directors elected by Oakland voters.
Typically, the voting age in the United States is 18 for local, state and federal elections, though 18 states and the District of Columbia allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the day of the general election.1 The U.S. Constitution does not prevent states or municipalities from establishing a lower voting age, and the California Constitution permits charter cities, such as Oakland, to pass laws in areas of local concern (such as school board elections). In 2016, Berkeley voters lowered the voting age to 16 for school board races, and this election, San Francisco voters are considering lowering the voting age to 16 for all municipal elections.
Measure QQ is part of a broader movement to increase voter turnout, which has remained chronically low in the United States, particularly among young voters. Since the U.S. Census Bureau began tracking voter-age data in 1964, young adults have had the lowest voter turnout of any age group.2 Barriers to participation for young voters include the many transitions they face, such as moving out of their families’ homes, starting a career or going to college.
However, in many jurisdictions that have lowered the voting age to 16, the voting rate among teens has been higher than for all other age brackets.3 Additionally, 16- and 17-year-old voters have been shown to influence the voter turnout of older family and community members,4 and research shows that the earlier people start voting, the more likely it is that voting will become a long-term habit.5Voting relies on reason, logic and deliberation, and research also shows these are fully developed by age 16 and do not improve with age.6
In Oakland, students have a long history of civic engagement, organizing, in recent years, to advance important initiatives such as reinstating the school district’s Free Supper program and demanding better teacher pay. Yet despite working through established means such as testifying at public meetings, students under 18 hold less political influence than eligible voters. The student organizers7 behind Measure QQ recognize that gaining the right to vote will enable them to build more political power.
This measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the City Council. The measure requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
Measure QQ could increase representation for students in school board decision-making and could particularly enfranchise students of color. The school district’s student population has a higher percentage of people of color than the City of Oakland’s population; lowering the voting age to 16 for school board races could empower young people of color to establish a habit of voting.
This measure could also provide young organizers with more political power to advance their equity-driven visions and policy ideas, such as investing in restorative justice practices, serving the district's immigrant student population, increasing college access for low-income students of color and protecting vital student services, such as foster care case managers.
- This measure would provide young people with the ability to address their concerns and solutions more successfully and encourage people in positions of power to engage with them.
- Allowing students to vote in school board elections can be a valuable educational experience, enabling students to engage with the civic process that they are learning about in the classroom.
- Lowering the voting age for school board elections could improve voter turnout among youth and their families.
- SPUR could not identify any downsides to this measure.
SPUR has advocated for decades to increase participation in the civic decision-making process and believes responsive, effective government requires a high level of involvement by a city’s residents. This measure would open participation in public decisions to up to 8,000 more citizens, ultimately leading to better outcomes for current and future Oakland Unified School District students.
Sixteen- and 17-year old students in Oakland should have political influence when voicing their concerns and solutions and should be able to hold their elected school board members accountable.