Youths seek to lower voting age to 16 in SF

San Francisco teenager Joshua Cardenas really wanted to vote in the Nov. 4 election. It was packed with local measures, such as raising The City's minimum wage and extending funding for youth services, which the lifelong resident would have voted for.

But the Riordan High School senior was barred from hitting the polls because he did not turn 18 until two weeks after the election.

Instead, Cardenas has opted to try to lower The City's legal voting age to 16 — a change that has gained the support of at least two supervisors. On Monday, the effort cleared its first hurdle to potentially go before San Francisco voters as early as November.

Cardenas, a member of the San Francisco Youth Commission since August 2013, has authored a resolution that urges Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors to explore lowering the voting age to 16 for municipal and school district elections.

The Youth Commission, currently comprised of 15 commissioners ages 12 to 23, supported the resolution in a 14-1 vote Monday night.

Cardenas said he recognized that he was not the only minor in The City who likely would have taken to the ballot box in the most recent election. More than 90 young residents — a majority of whom were under 18 — attended a Young Voters Forum on Oct. 14 to discuss issues facing San Franciscans that were up for a vote last year.

“There's a much more aging electorate in San Francisco, and across the country as well,” Cardenas said. “The voices of young people are not as well represented. Youths [don't] feel included in local government.”

Two supervisors were quick to voice support Monday of the notion of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in San Francisco.

Supervisor John Avalos said the voice of the youth population could be transformative, and he will work with the City Attorney's Office to see what authority San Francisco has to set its own voting age.

“If we get the green light, I'm likely to submit — with the Youth Commission's support — a charter amendment for discussion at the Board of Supervisors,” Avalos said. “Young people do great work, and they have been part of the changed process in The City for a long time.”

Supervisor Eric Mar agreed that lowering the voting age to 16 would help encourage teens to take part in elections for years to come.

“Expanding voting rights to 16-year-olds encourages real, lifelong political participation and gives them a voice government often ignores,” Mar said in a statement to The San Francisco Examiner.

Only one city in the U.S. has reduced its legal voting age to 16: Takoma Park, Md., in May 2013, according to the Youth Commission's resolution.

The local resolution also notes that countries including Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom have or are considering extending the right to vote to 16 in national, state and local elections.

“We think everyone wins when more people participate in the democratic process,” said Adele Failes-Carpenter, director of the Youth Commission.

In addition to encouraging a charter amendment that would allow residents to begin voting younger locally, the resolution also calls for the mayor and supervisors to urge San Francisco's state representatives to explore a state constitutional referendum to reduce the voting age to 16 throughout California.

Voters in San Francisco would likely have to approve an amendment to The City's charter before 16- and 17-year-olds are allowed to vote.

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