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Youth voting effort in SF postponed for at least another year

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Supervisor John Avalos. Eric Lawson/Special to the S.F. Examiner
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San Francisco could become the first major city to bestow upon its youth aged 16 and 17 the right to vote, but it’ll take at least another year.

Initially planned for the November ballot, those behind the effort to extend voting rights to the youth decided Monday to look to the 2016 election.

That’ll give supporters more time to make their case during a high-turnout election cycle. “We think that vote 16 in 2016 has a good ring to it,” said Adele Failes-Carpenter, director of the Youth Commission, which is leading the effort.

Supervisor John Avalos introduced the charter amendment in March. During Monday’s Board of Supervisors Rules Committee meeting, he amended it to go onto the November 2016 ballot. Plus, Avalos added school board and city college board elections as the races youth could vote on.

It would take six out of 11 votes on the board to place the measure on the 2016 ballot. Supervisor Malia Cohen said she remained undecided, indicating it would have had a difficult time making it to the ballot this year. “I haven’t taken a position on this item,” Cohen said.

Supervisor Katy Tang, the third member of the Rules Committee, was not present Monday.

The Rules Committee has agreed to hold off on moving the issue to the full board until next year.

Avalos said he intended to hold various meetings on the issue between now and next November, along with an offsite meeting possibly at a high school. He acknowledged that at first people may be wary of the idea, but when they are more informed they start to warm up to it.

“We are not looking at redesigning what adulthood is about, but we are looking at redesigning what civic participation is about,” Avalos said.

Some critics of the measure said it was a disguised effort by progressives, who have been losing political ground, to gain more voters. But commission members said the issue transcends that political dynamic and it is a right youth deserve to have.

Supporters argue youth can work without limitations on hours, pay taxes, drive cars and be tried in adult courts — yet they cannot vote. There about 13,000 youth in the 16-17 year-old age bracket in The City. Countries like Brazil and the United Kingdom allow youth to vote.

“This is an issue of democratic engagement. This is a youth led effort backed by a lot of research,” said Youth Commissioner Joyce Wu. “Over the long term this could have a huge important impact on the voter turnout.”

The Youth Commission, upon which service members are appointed by each member of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor, has made youth voting its number one priority. “Research shows that voting is habitual, and that once a young person casts their first vote, they will continue voting,” said the commission’s report on the issue.

“Additionally, the earlier someone starts voting, the more likely they are to be a lifelong voter. Many young people encounter major transitions at age 18, which can make it a challenging year to establish new voting habits.”

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