Facing a decline in “progressive” politics, San Francisco supervisor John Avalos is offering a city charter amendment to allow 16-year-olds to vote. He argues that allowing the teenagers to vote will stimulate more civic involvement and inculcate a desire to vote that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
Avalos told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I have seen the power of young people to be able to make changes and positive contributions to their community, and it makes sense to give them the right to vote.”
Avalos is following the path laid out in January by the San Francisco Youth Commission, which passed a resolution to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. If Avalos succeeds in getting six votes from the eleven-member Board of Supervisors, the teenagers would be eligible to vote in city elections.
Two cities in Maryland, Takoma Park and Hyattsville, have given 16-year-olds the right to vote, but San Francisco would become the first major city to do so. San Francisco Youth Commissioner Joshua Cardenas, 18, complained, “You can drive, you can work, you can pay taxes and you can be tried in adult court, and yet you are denied the right to vote. There is a contradiction there. Certainly, they have the knowledge and competence to vote at 16.”
Claremont McKenna College political science professor John Pitney vehemently disagreed, telling the Chronicle, “It’s a terrible idea. Sixteen-year-olds have a lot going for them, but civic judgment isn’t one of those things.”
Political scientist David Latterman told the Chronicle that Avalos was trying to boost the flagging fortunes of “progressives” on the city council, “looking under the couch cushions to get more votes.” Avalos denied the accusation.
The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 nationally in 1971 in the 26th Amendment as Congress decided that anyone old enough to fight in Vietnam should also be allowed to vote.