There are plenty of reasons why San Francisco should lower the voting age to 16, but the most important one is that young people need to get involved in politics and their communities, and voting is a habit that starts early or not at all.
Some critics argue that teenage brains aren’t well enough developed to make important judgements, like who ought to be on the School Board and the Board of Supes.
But it’s hard to argue that the adults who vote for some of the people who have been elected in this city have that wonderful cognitive judgment, either. Lots of voters don’t pay attention until the last minute, and are overly influenced by ads and slick campaigns. If everyone who voted was on top of their game, the billion-dollar political consulting industry wouldn’t exist.
So let’s get off that track for a moment and talk about what might happen if we extended the franchise, just for local races, to High School juniors and seniors.
The candidates for School Board would have to talk to students at the schools. That almost never happens now. Why talk to the people whose educations you control, when they can’t vote for you?
The candidates for supervisor and Community College Board would have to talk to young people, too – and be respectful, and deal with issues that the youth of San Francisco face every day.
More important, there would be political clubs for youth. There might be a Lowell High School Democratic Club, or a Gateway High School Democratic Club, or even better an SF High School Students Democratic Club. There would be young people joining the Milk Club, and Alice, and the Sierra Club, and the neighborhood clubs.
All of those groups would have to reach out to youth, because young people would be their future.
We would hear a lot more talk about what teenagers care about and need in the city (and trust me, I have two teens who have been well educated in the public schools, and they won’t be opposing limits on sugary drinks). Politicians will have to deal with student debt, with police abuse (how many young men of color trust the SFPD?), with the lack of after-school programs … and a lot of other things that aren’t on the agenda today.
And some of the kids who join the High School Democratic Club – not just to debate and talk, but to make actual endorsements that matter, and to evaluate candidates who will have to show up and meet with them – will become tomorrow’s civic (and state and national) leaders.
The high school kids I know are not easily impressed by adults. You think the current supes would have an easy time getting away with scripted messages at a club dominated by 16 and 17-year-olds? Then you aren’t hanging out with those young people in this city.
At any rate, this comes before the Board of Supes tomorrow afternoon. If six members vote for it, the issue will be on the November ballot. There will be a rally at City Hall at 4pm, and the hearing starts at around 5pm. For more info, go to vote16sf.org.
And I will be very, very interested to see which supes vote against this.