by Lexi Kupor
Public Relations Manager
Adolescents repeatedly act as the driving force behind global political and social movements, attaining senior leadership positions among local and large-scale campaigns for environmental sustainability, racial justice, gender and sexuality non-discrimination, and sexual harassment protections, to name a few. Yet, due to an ironic and unjust policy across California and an additional 31 states, these politically active and educated teenagers cannot take part in the very process that initiates the tangible change towards which they dedicate their time and effort: voting. Support of California Proposition 18 will alleviate this hindrance and allow influential, change-seeking adolescents to attain the voting privileges they deserve.
Proposition 18 will be on the ballot this November. If passed, it will become a state constitutional amendment allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the time of a general election to vote in primary and special elections. Currently, per the California State Constitution, individuals must be 18 on the date of any election to take part in voting procedures.
This change is essential to ensure that young adults’ voices and opinions gain representation in state government. By the time of the general election, many earlier candidates have already ended their campaigns due to a lack of votes or support for their platforms. Consequently, freshly-minted adults who were unable to participate in primary voting processes must choose between individuals who may not represent any of their priorities, as they weren’t able to demonstrate support for candidates who represented their preferences and opinions earlier in the election process.
The California Association of Student Councils echoes this sentiment, declaring that “young people whose birthdays fall between the primary [and] general election are currently at a disadvantage to those who are permitted to vote in the primaries. Without full exposure to the election process they are unable to submit their most educated vote in the general election.” The passage of Proposition 18 “would ensure that a greater number of citizens voting in the general election have the resources and experience they need to provide the vote that best matches their own values.”
In addition to ensuring the representation of young voters’ viewpoints in early candidate choices, Proposition 18 is paramount to ensuring future voter participation. Like many states, California already suffers from a severe lack of political participation from its citizens; in Oct. 2016, less than 80% of the eligible voting population had undergone the voter registration process. By allowing 17-year-olds to join the mix early on, the voting privilege becomes a habitual process.
California Senator Holly Mitchell (D – Los Angeles) agrees with these arguments, explaining that “if we capture the attention and the interest of young people fresh out of U.S. history, California history, civics class in high school, maybe we can help turn the tide in terms of increasing voter turnout across the state.”
Opponents of the state constitutional amendment may argue that the proposition stems from a Democratic standpoint attempting to gain further representation for their party in state policy and representatives. In the state senate, only one Republican voted in support of the legislation. However, adolescents’ party preference is largely in line with registered voter representation, so the partisan bias would be no more off-set than it currently is.
The SF Chronicle reports that 42 percent of pre-registered California teenagers, as of mid-February, self-reported their political identities as Democrat-aligned — fewer than the overall state registered voter portion of 45 percent. Additionally, 15 percent of the teenagers declared themselves Republicans and 36 percent declared no party preference, while state registered voters represent an aggregate of 24 percent Republicans and 25 percent with no party preference. As the adolescent “no party preference” portion is significantly larger than that of the state voting body, adding 17 year olds to the voting body would not threaten either state party representation; on the contrary, it would allow the amplification of voices of undecided or minority voters.
Finally, Proposition 18 opponents claim that adolescents lack an understanding of the very policy changes upon which they would be voting. This statement could not be further from the truth. Teenagers experience first-hand effects of education reform, college costs and student loans, employment initiatives, housing prices, healthcare stances, and environmental policy in their everyday lives, often allowing them to be even more receptive than older populations to these relevant legislative issues. Their unique understanding as students and imminent adults allows for an even greater representation of truth-seeking, justice-oriented voters across California.
The participation of 17-year-olds in the voting process is crucial to state-wide civic engagement and diverse and relevant viewpoint representation across party lines. Should California truly be committed to ensuring just political participation in its policy and representative decisions, it is time that young adults are no longer unjustly excluded from the voting process from which these results stem.
(Sources: California Secretary of State, BallotPedia, SF Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, Mercury News)