Voters between the ages of 18 and 24 represented just 4 percent of the ballots cast in California’s 2014 general election. An amendment making its way through the state Assembly would change that by lowering the voting age to 17.
ACA 8 needs a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature in order to appear before voters on the November 2020 ballot.
Assemblymember Evan Low, who introduced the amendment, said young people should be able to weigh in on issues that affect them, like climate change, affordable housing and gun violence.
Citizens ages 18 to 25 made up just over 10 percent of registered voters in San Mateo County in 2018. That is below the state average of about 13 percent.
Cabrillo Unified School District Board of Trustees President Sophia Layne said young voter turnout has typically been low in the area. She said she would support any effort that increases civic engagement among students.
At the age of 17, students can benefit from civics curriculum in high school to learn about the political system they are about to engage in, according to Low. California public school students generally learn about American government in 12th grade.
“We cannot just provide an opportunity for younger people to vote, but we also have to empower them with knowledge and the education as to why it’s important,” Low said.
Layne and other locals highlighted the importance of civics education.
“I honestly think it’s a terrible idea to lower the voting age to 17 unless there is a stronger civics education program in high schools, which there currently doesn’t seem to be,” Half Moon Bay resident Paul Carlson said, when the question was posed on social media.
Others said the voting age should remain 18.
“It’s a slippery slope to define 17 as full adulthood,” said Grant Dodson, of El Granada.
Layne noted the importance of registering and engaging young voters before they go off to college or the working world at the age of 18.
“You make that habit like you do with brushing your teeth and reading books, when you’re young and in your home community,” she said.
California is one of 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, allowing 16-year-olds to preregister to vote.
The bill fell eight votes short of passing the state Assembly in 2017. Low noted that the amendment has 35 co-authors this time, including three Republicans. Democrats also hold 61 of the 80 state Assembly seats, enough for a supermajority.
Assemblymembers may vote on the legislation as early as this week.