SFUSD to start teaching kids as young as 16 about voting

Another round of legislation in support of lowering the voting age in San Francisco reached the school board on Tuesday and passed without objection.

Two months ago, the Board of Education endorsed a proposed charter amendment that would allow 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in city elections. The board resolution did not specify how the school system would prepare youth to vote.

“When we did the resolution to lower the voting age, this was my biggest concern,” Commissioner Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell said at the board meeting. “We couldn’t do that without having the counterpiece to this which is to support the young people in understanding the importance and value of voting.”

That counterpiece was approved on Tuesday, when the board doubled down on its support for lowering the voting age by passing a resolution to teach high school kids about the voting process and the significant political parties in San Francisco.

“We felt like we could do more right now today to encourage more young people to get involved in the process and understand their right to vote,” Commissioner Rachel Norton, co-sponsor of the latest resolution, said at the meeting.

The voting lessons will be taught during the district’s 12th grade American Democracy course beginning next year, according to Norton. Students will be taught how to register or preregister to vote, depending on their age.

The district is also expected to offer voter registration drives at high schools at least once a year, according to the resolution.

“We know from all the studies on voting behavior that voting’s a habit, so the earlier you start voting the more likely you are to vote throughout your life,” Norton said.

According to the resolution, a 2009 study from George Mason University on preregistration in Hawaii and Florida found that preregistering encouraged youth to vote in the future. Youth who are at least 16 years old are allowed to preregister to vote in California.

“The average voting age is 46 years old and we need to get more young people involved quite frankly,” Sandra Fewer, also a co-sponsor, said at the meeting. “This has potential to register 4,000 new voters every year so it’s a really fabulous thing.”

Jillian Wu, Vice Chair of the Youth Commission, told board members that a recent survey of 5,000 students showed that 80 percent of youth would be willing to vote if given the opportunity.

The resolution is important for all high school students, but “especially those who do not have family members or community members who vote or are able to vote,” Wu said.

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