Youth Voting in Local Elections
Youth Voting in Local Elections
Amends the City Charter’s definition of “voter” for the purpose of municipal elections to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.
What the Measure Would Do
Prop G would amend the city charter to permit 16- and 17-year-olds who are U.S. citizens and residents of San Francisco to vote in municipal elections.
The programs and practices 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, so the City Controller does not anticipate that the Department of Elections would incur major costs.
This measure is identical to Proposition F from 2016, which was defeated by a 4% margin. It was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
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. Currently, four cities in Maryland are the only U.S. cities with a minimum voting age of 16 for all municipal elections. In 2016, Berkeley voters lowered the voting age to 16 for school board races.
Voter engagement 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.
Early initiatives to lower the voting age to 16 have shown promise in increasing voter turnout. In many of the jurisdictions that have passed them, the voting rate among teens has been higher than for all other age brackets.3 Activating the teenage vote may spur broader gains in voter participation as well. In the short term, 16- and 17-year-old voters have been shown to influence the voter turnout of older family and community members.4 Research also shows that the earlier people start voting, the more likely it is that voting will become a long-term habit.5
Research shows that 16- and 17-year-olds have the necessary cognitive development to vote. Voting relies on reason, logic and deliberation, which are fully developed by age 16 and do not improve with age.6
The current San Francisco city attorney believes that this measure is legally defensible. The state constitution allows 18-year-olds to vote and also permits charter cities like San Francisco to pass laws in areas of local concern, such as school board elections, that do not mirror state law.
This measure would increase representation for people of color. In San Francisco, 77% of 16- and 17-year-olds are people of color, and lowering the voting age to 16 will help ensure that they are empowered by our democracy and establish a habit of voting. Additionally, it would help ensure that more immigrant families have a voice at the local level. In the San Francisco Unified School District, one in three students has an immigrant parent.7
- By extending the right to vote to more residents, this measure could help San Francisco government become more representative and better serve its residents.
- Sixteen- and 17-year-olds work, pay taxes and can be viewed as adults in court and legal proceedings; they should also be allowed to vote.8
- Young people are experiencing significant negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and our government response. Including 16- and 17-year-olds in our democratic process will provide them with greater agency over the systems and institutions that directly impact their lives.
- Under this measure, 16- and 17-year-olds would stand to gain two years of experience voting on municipal races, which could prompt them to become more engaged with and educated about local issues.
- Legalizing voting at a younger age could improve turnout for younger voters and their families. Voting earlier in life has been shown to lead to stronger lifetime voting habits.
- SPUR could not identify any downsides to this measure.
SPUR has advocated for decades to increase participation in the civic decision-making process. We believe responsive, effective government requires a high level of involvement by the city’s residents. This measure would open participation in public decisions to more citizens who we believe could make conscientious voting decisions. Additionally, engaging youth in municipal elections could improve the health of our democracy overall by heightening interest in local civic issues and contributing to better youth turnout and lifetime voter engagement.
Young people are deeply aware of the political, social and civic problems in San Francisco and around the Bay Area, and are passionate about being part of the solution. We should allow them to have an impact at the ballot box.
1 NCSL, Voting Age for Primary Elections, March 3, 2020, https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/primaries-voting-a... If California Proposition 18 passes this November, California would be added to this list.
3 Vote16USA, Young Voices at the Ballot Box, February 2020, http://vote16usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/white-paper-5.14.20.pdf
4 Michael McDevitt and Spiro Kiousis, “Experiments in Political Socialization: Kids Voting USA as a Model for Civic Education Reform,” August2006, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED494074.pdf
5 Eric Plutzer, “Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth,” American Political Science Review 96/1, March 2002, pages 41–56.
6 Laurence Steinberg, Elizabeth Cauffman, Jennifer Woolard, Sandra Graham, Marie Banich, “Are Adolescents Less Mature Than Adults? Minors’ Access to Abortion, the Juvenile Death Penalty, and the Alleged APA “Flip-Flop,” American Psychologist Journal, 64(7), October 2009, pages 583-594,
7 Vote16USA, Young Voices at the Ballot Box, February 2020, http://vote16usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/white-paper-5.14.20.pdf
8 Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins, “American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds Are Ready to Vote,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 63, January 2011, pages 201–221.