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SF measures would enable youths, undocumented parents to vote

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San Francisco voters will be asked to approve a pair of ballot measures in November that would enfranchise teenagers and undocumented parents with the right to vote, respectively.

Proposition F would allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in all local elections, while Proposition N would enable non-citizen parents with children in San Francisco to participate in electing candidates to the Board of Education.

Opponents of Prop. F have questioned whether those as young as 16 are ready to vote, as well as raised concerns over the measure being a power grab for progressive politicians scrounging for favorable votes from San Francisco’s youths.

Prop F. sponsor Supervisor John Avalos responded to the criticism during a meeting with the San Francisco Examiner’s editorial board by pointing to the small number of voters the proposition would generate.

If teenagers register to vote at the same rate as the general population — about 57 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in June, according to the Department of Elections — voter registration would increase by just 1 percent in San Francisco, City Controller Ben Rosenfield found.

“It’s not going to make a difference in an election, but what it’s really about is you try to drive up participation rates and informed voting,” Avalos said.

Avalos said the measure is not about “defining when someone is smart enough,” but correcting the low voter turnout among millennials.

“There’s a real drop off that happens when people turn 18,” he said. “You turn 18, you go to college, you join the workforce, you’re not living at home anymore… You’re distracted by a lot of things and voting is not on the top of the list.”

Oliver Sanghvi York, a 17-year-old senior at Lick-Wilmerding High School in Balboa Park and an supporter of Prop F., said the measure is aimed at creating informed voting habits for the future.

“One of the big misconceptions is that this is entirely about 16 year olds,” York told the Examiner. “For me, it’s actually not about 16 and 17 year olds, it’s about creating a culture of informed, habitual voting that will last.”

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who does not support Prop. F, questioned why the voting age would be set at 16 — an age he said he was not prepared to vote at — and not 15, for instance.

Farrell said he appreciated the politically engaged youth at City Hall but doesn’t “believe that enfranchising an entire age group would make a difference” for others.

“These are individuals that are engaged and thankfully so,” he said. “But their proponents have been using the argument that this is the only way to get people engaged in the political process. And I don’t agree with that comment.”

Farrell noted that the same argument has been used for Prop. N.

“I am engaged parent and it has nothing to do with and I can’t vote on who serves on the boards of my schools,” Farrell said. “To me being an active parent is a completely separate and distinguished discussion point.”

The non-citizen voting measure, sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar, is meant to increase voter participation and parental involvement in the San Francisco Unified School District, according to Supervisor David Campos.

Campos, who supports Prop. N, said the measure is another way to close the achievement gap for Latino students.

“That gap will be closed the more parents get involved,” Campos said.

Rosenfield, the city controller, found that Prop. N would cost a minimum $160,000 per election in voting materials, training for poll workers and voter registration unless done by absentee ballot, which would cost about $120,000.

On the other hand, Prop. F would have just a “marginal” impact on elections costs for The City, according to Rosenfield.

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