Protestors take a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the Golden Gate Bridge to remember George Floyd who died while being detained by Minneapolis Police. Thousands joined the peaceful march on the Golden Gate Bridge, which was organized by Bay Area teens, and walked the full span into Sausalito on June 6, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).

With teen activists in spotlight, SF could become first major US city to give youth the vote

In 2016, San Francisco voters narrowly defeated a measure that would have extended the right to vote in local elections to those who are ages 16 and 17. Four years later, voters will once again have that opportunity this November.

If the measure passes, it would make San Francisco the first major US city to grant the right to vote to the youth, although some smaller cities and other countries already allow it.

Those supporting the Vote16 measure this year believe that the youth vote movement has gained significant ground since 2016, as young people have exhibited strong leadership on some of the biggest issues of the day. Some of the largest protests of recent weeks, including one in the Mission District and one that took over the Golden Gate Bridge, have been led by local teens.

Former Supervisor John Avalos, who is a candidate in this November’s District 11 supervisor race, introduced the measure the first time around when it was met with more skepticism and took some convincing to even get on the ballot. It lost by 2.8 percent of the vote. The City’s Youth Commission led the effort for the 2016 measure and is now leading it again in 2020.

“I expect that Vote16 will win handily this year,” Avalos told the San Francisco Examiner Monday.

“This year, Vote16 is starting at a much higher level of support and with a huge multi-year demonstration in youth activism in the Climate Strike, the March for Our Lives for reasonable gun control, and the #BlackLivesMatter movements,” Avalos said. “In 2020, adults are even more receptive to youth activism and their participation in direct democracy to hold accountable the decision makers who refuse to protect them and secure their future.”

This year’s measure was introduced by board president Norman Yee and was voted out of the board’s Rules Committee Monday. The full board will vote to place it on the ballot in the coming weeks. It already has eight backers, more than enough needed.

Some criticism of the measure in 2016 was that youth lack the maturity and judgment expected of voters, but Yee said, “They can and want to navigate complex issues.”

“The question is not are young people capable of changing the world for the better but will we stand alongside them and let their voices be heard,” Yee said.

Youth Commissioners Ariana Arana, Sarah Ginsburg and Sarah Cheung presented the body’s position for why youth should be granted the right to vote.

They argued sixteen is the right age to start voting because it is the age when they can legally drive and work without hour limitations.

The measure is also seen as a way to boost voter turnout.

“Voting is a habit, “said Youth Commissioner Sarah Cheung. “Sixteen is a much more accessible age to start this habit than 18, as 18-year-olds are in a time of transition.”

In the March election, 305,184 of 503,899 registered voters voted in San Francisco, a 60 percent voter turnout. The measure could “increase the number of registered voters for municipal elections by up to approximately 1.5 percent if 16 and 17 year olds register to vote at the same rate as the general population,” according to analysis by the City Controller’s Office, which found it would have “only a marginal increase in Department of Elections’ costs an annual basis.”

Supervisor Catherine Stefani also cited recent youth activism as a reason why youth should have the right to vote.

“San Francisco voters should have another opportunity to weigh in on this important question,” Stefani said, noting that “a lot has happened since 2016.”

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