In two small Maryland towns, Takoma Park and Hyattsville, youth suffrage activists have pushed the voting age down from eighteen to sixteen. San Francisco aims to be the third municipality to grant voting rights to Americans who are already considered old enough to work, drive, and be tried as adults in a court of law.
Like their friends in Maryland, San Francisco teenagers only aspire to vote in small scale elections for now, and they won't make it in time for this year's presidential race. Hard work, youth empowerment workshops, and campaigning by the San Francisco Youth Commission put a proposal called "VOTE 16" on November's ballot. If the eighteen and ups support it, high schoolers will be able to cast their votes in municipal, county, and school board elections. Teenagers are raising their voices, but ultimately, it's the adults who will decide if they can be heard.
A common criticism of youth suffrage is that young voters will just give their parents an extra ballot. It might be a legitimate concern in a world where teenagers never rebel against their parents. When sixteen and seventeen year olds cast their ballots in the Scottish independence referendum, 44% voted independently of their parents.
In San Francisco specifically, teenagers who do align their political beliefs would their parents could give their family not a second vote, but a first one. San Francisco is a diverse city with a large immigrant population. One in three San Francisco Unified School District students have an immigrant parent who could not vote for laws and policies affecting their US citizen children.
VOTE16SF isn't just about getting teens to the polls. They aim to create adult voters, today and tomorrow. Only 40% of eligible San Francisco adults turned up for last year's election. Young blood could bring more. They want teenagers to come home from civics class and talk politics around the dinner table. They want high school voters to become college voters, and then parent voters themselves.
If you're interested in donating $16 to the cause (or any amount, really, but I have a hard time resisting the sweet sixteen), or just want to learn more about the teens and ideas behind this proposal, you can visit vote16sf.org.
I can't see any day in my lifetime when sixteen year olds could be guaranteed voting rights across the country. But then again, women at the Seneca Falls Convention were hesitant to push for voting rights because they thought it was asking too much. They wanted to concentrate instead on securing property and child custody rights. Only one teenage girl who attended the convention in 1848, Charlotte Woodward Pierce, lived to see the day in 1920 when she was granted the right to vote. The impossible has to start somewhere. Maybe today's the day.