A young woman leads a chant as thousands of students march down Market Street to participate in the global Youth Climate Strike on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Youth vote proponents to make a second try in November

Charter amendment would allow 16 and 17-year-olds a say in local elections

San Francisco supervisors will introduce a charter amendment Tuesday to allow minors to vote in local elections, four years after a similar measure failed.

The charter amendment would allow eligible 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections, making San Francisco the first major city nationwide to do so. Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Shamann Walton, and Matt Haney will introduce the measure Tuesday, officials said Monday.

“People are realizing we need to get more people involved in the democratic process,” Yee said. “Now, we have more adults that are willing to step up and help with this effort.”

San Francisco voters narrowly rejected a similar measure in 2016. Proposition F would have lowered the voting age to 16 and 17 for local elections, including the Board of Education, starting in 2018.

Soon after Prop. F’s loss, the Youth Commission took a close look at areas like Bayview Hunters-Point that had low voter turnout or Chinatown and the Excelsior that didn’t approve the measure and brought them into the process, said Arianna Nassiri, a commissioner who chairs the Commission’s Civic Engagement Committee.

“We maintained the same ethos of making it a youth-led and youth-run campaign,” said Nassiri, who directs the local chapter of Vote16 to enact similar measures nationwide. “It’s important for us to demonstrate that we are capable of taking on the role of voters.”

The Youth Commission is also pushing for civic engagement curriculum in schools to preparing young people to vote, Nassiri added. Yee feels what would come of that is just a natural extension of the voting process for class offices — and training that adults should also receive.

Youth activism has surged since 2016 and may well be noticed by San Francisco voters this time around. There were already young groups on the forefront of the movement to reduce police brutality and incarceration, like the lobbying for the closure of San Francisco’s juvenile detention center, but that involvement has intensified around matters including gun violence and climate change.

The February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people also sparked the March for Our Lives movement to reform gun laws and prevent further shootings.

Bay Area youth also joined a worldwide youth climate strike representing efforts by groups like Youth Vs. Apocalypse, Sunrise Movement, and Extinction Rebellion to ensure younger generations inherit a livable planet. Swedish environmental activist and teenager Greta Thunberg became a face for this frustration in 2019 with speech after speech that chided world leaders on inaction to prevent climate change while knowing the science behind it for decades.

“The 2016 election and its fallout really served as a catalyst for this new wave of youth activism that we just haven’t seen before,” Nassiri said. “They serve as evidence that young people are aware, politically active, and engaging in the political process. We’re seeing young people drive, pay taxes, enrolled in San Francisco Unified School District in large numbers, and yet completely disenfranchised from taking part in this system.”

In 2018, non-citizens gained the right to vote in school board elections through a 2016 ballot measure, but few registered, a fact that has been attributed to a climate of fear under the Trump administration.

With the Board of Supervisors’ approval, the charter amendment to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote would be placed on the November ballot.

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