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When residents in San Francisco cast their vote for President of the United States this November, they will also be deciding—for the second time in four years—whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote in future local elections.
Although San Francisco voters turned down a similar proposal in 2016, Vote 16 activists believe the measure will pass this time, and bring about an array of societal benefits.
“I really think that Vote 16 will help youth of color in San Francisco establish the habit of voting at an earlier age, and really provide them with the support and the resources that they need to continue building on that habit as they grow older,” Crystal Chan, an 18-year old organizer for Vote 16 SF, told NBC News.
Back in the 2016 election, the measure narrowly failed to pass by about 2% of the vote.
The Vote 16 SF website lists four reasons to vote for the measure: Young people should have the opportunity to build the habit, young people between 16 and 17 are already ready to vote, young people already have a vested interest in politics, and young people should have the opportunity to “strengthen” their civics education.
“Strong civics education and a lower voting age would mutually reinforce each other to increase civic engagement. A lower voting age would make civics education more effective as providing students a way to directly apply what they’re learning in the classroom in their communities would add a crucial level of relevance to civics courses. It would also encourage more schools to implement higher quality civics education programs given its immediate implications on students lives,” reads the website.
Some of these arguments have resonated with mainstream Democrats over the years, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the San Francisco Democratic lawmaker who presented a similar argument in 2019 in favor of lowering the voting age for federal elections, according to The Hill.
“I myself have always been for lowering the voting age to 16,” said Pelosi. “I think it’s really important to capture kids when they’re in high school, when they’re interested in all of this, when they’re learning about government, to be able to vote.”
According to The Washington Post, during the Democratic presidential primary, only two candidates affirmatively told the news agency in a questionnaire that they were against lowering the voting age: Former Congressman John Delaney (D-MD), and billionaire progressive activist Tom Steyer. Four minor candidates, including businessman Andrew Yang and Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-FL), indicated they were in favor of such a policy, and several more signaled that they were open to the idea.
Neither former Vice President Joe Biden nor Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), both of whom now comprise the 2020 Democratic ticket for November, gave an affirmative answer to the question during the primary. The news agency does note, however, that Harris did co-sponsor a bill to start a “pre-registration process” for people 16 years old or older.