SF examines lowering voting age and other methods to boost turnout

(S.F. Examiner file photo)

The Board of Supervisors will hold its first ever joint meeting with the Youth Commission next month to decide whether to seek voter support for lowering San Francisco’s voting age to 16 in local elections.

Such a change would require an amendment to The City’s charter, which must be approved by voters.

The May 3 meeting is significant for several reasons. Not only are the supervisors expected to have youth commission members sitting next to them during the meeting, but the proposal is part of a broader discussion in San Francisco about new methods to boost voter turnout, and support of the Vote16SF measure could signal a willingness to try other ideas.

The City is already exploring switching to an open-source voting system, and a new city report examines other methods.

Voter turnout has mostly hovered at less than 60 percent in recent years, except for elections with a presidential race. In November 2013 and June 2014, voter turnout dropped to less than 30 percent.

The report suggests developing partnerships with technology companies like Facebook and Google “that hold major online presence and could mobilize their users to register and vote — particularly younger voters.”

The report, “What the City and County of San Francisco Can Do to Help Increase Voter Turnout,” is expected to be heard Friday by the Local Agency Formation Commission, on which sit several supervisors. The commission requested the report, which was drafted by LAFCO executive director Jason Fried and policy research intern Enrique Aguilar.

“If people are willing to do it, then it shows there is an interest in figuring out how to get more participation in the system,” Fried said of the Vote16SF effort. “We are in a dying system. Every year you see more and more people choosing [to] not show up.”

Fried said The City is already doing many educational and outreach efforts to help with registration. For instance, the nonprofit People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights works with the Latino community in the Mission district and on Election Day provides transportation to polling places, the report said.

But there are opportunities to try new things.

Currently, The City has early voting at City Hall, but having more satellite locations, as is done in Nevada, at shopping centers and grocery stores could boost turnout.

Fried said that currently adding off-site locations is likely cost-prohibitive, but if The City switches to an open source voting system the technology would make it more feasible.

A state law was passed allowing for same-day registration, but that is contingent upon the establishment of a statewide voter database called Vote-Cal, which isn’t expected until next year, the report said

A previous effort to boost voter turnout has failed in recent years, but remain no less an important element of increasing voter turnout, according to the report. San Francisco voters have twice rejected measures that would have allowed noncitizens, including undocumented immigrants, to vote on school board elections.

Last November, 45 percent or 203,069 of San Francisco’s 446,828 registered voters cast a ballot.

Avalos remains optimistic that voters will have the chance to decide whether to lower the voting age to 16 in San Francisco this November.

“Young people have been very convincing about how when you allow young people to have an opportunity to vote that they become more consistent voters in their adult lives,” Avalos said.

Since being proposed last year, lowering the voter age has gained widespread support, including from state Sen. Mark Leno, Assemblymember David Chiu and the San Francisco Board of Education. Board of SupervisorsCity HallJohn AvalosPoliticsSan FranciscoVote16voter turnoutYouth Commission

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