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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Civics classes — where high school students learn about the three branches of government — end with a cumulative exam, but the real test for politically-minded young people comes when they cast their first vote. High schoolers are reminded to register for these classes, but many students are still 17, and therefore, too young to vote. At 18, many teens are going off to college, which often means a change in address or even home state, making voter registration difficult and confusing. Perhaps that contributes to the dismal voter turnout from the 2016 election, wherein 50% of people ages 18 through 29 failed to vote.

Low voter turnout among young people is not due to a lack of knowledge or passion, but the result of poor timing. When young people don’t register and vote at the first opportunity, they are unlikely to do it come the next election. Failure to vote becomes a habit.

Luckily, two state assemblymembers this year have identified this problem and proposed bills in California and New York legislatures to lower the voting age by one year. This change, while not drastic, will allow for students to register while still in high school, rather than when they are making the transition to adulthood.

In California, Assemblymember Evan Low proposed Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 10 to lower the voting age to 17. Low, 34, explained that he proposed the bill because he believes “young people are our future.”

“Lowering the voting age will help give them a voice in the democratic process and instill a lifelong habit of voting,” Low said. ACA 10 was written with the support of the bipartisan Millennial Caucus, a coalition of young, state-level elected officials. California representatives of both parties acknowledge that increasing voter turnout is the only way to elect people to pass laws that accurately represent the priorities of their constituents.

On the other side of the country, a member of the New York state legislature had the same idea as Low. In March, Assemblymember Robert Carroll introduced the Young Voter Act, a bill that will lower the voting age in New York to 17. Carroll, 30, wrote this bill after being approached by a group of local high schoolers who wanted to increase their civic engagement. Rather than just telling these kids to volunteer on his next campaign, he sat down with them and penned a way for them to gain a political voice.

Carroll has said that he believes that voting is a fundamental right that should be granted to teens during habit-forming years to ensure that they become active participants in our government. “Government should be fostering citizenship among young people — I think the more people involved, the better and more representative our government will be,” he said.

Assemblymembers Low and Carroll are leading this fight on behalf of young people everywhere. These legislators understand that these voices deserve to be heard, and have both agreed to be the first ones to really listen. If California and New York lower the voting age, other states could possibly follow suit.

While it is exciting that the movement to lower the voting age has support in California and New York, it also faces opposition. The primary argument against lowering the voting age addresses intellect and maturity: People claim that 17-year-olds don’t know enough about politics and will cast their votes without understanding the issues. But teens are engaged with politics, from the classes they take in high school and the amount of news they read and access on social media. Additionally, the right to vote is not based on intellect. Literacy tests were outlawed in 1965 — and adults do not have to demonstrate any level of understanding prior to casting their votes.

Seventeen-year-olds are ready and willing to engage in the political system, they just need a ballot.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Youth commissioners, in middle school and high school, from West Valley cities traveled to Sacramento last week to voice support for lowering the state voting age from 18 to 17.

On Aug. 29, 30 youth commissioners from Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, San Jose and Saratoga traveled by bus to the state capitol building to show support for lowering the voting age and to learn about their state government.

Many were there to meet with former Campbell mayor and current Assemblyman Evan Low and to support his bill, ACA 10, which proposes lowering the state voting age. It was introduced in March.

“For ACA 10 we have a lot of support for it, but for us on the staff level we wanted to reach out to every youth commission in the state,” Tatum Holland, Low’s legislative director, told commissioners while sitting in the governor’s council room.

Low, 34, told commissioners that it was “not too long ago” he was part of the Campbell Youth Commission and was learning about local government and civic engagement. Low began his political career as a city councilman in 2006. Three years later, he became the youngest openly gay Asian-American mayor in the nation.

Low said he and colleagues of his age want to include the perspectives of young people when considering bills and laws that would affect them.

Low said ACA 10 has bipartisan support and he believes that by lowering the voting age to 17, younger voters will be further engaged in the democratic process and will form a “lifelong habit” of voting. Additionally, it may increase the voter turnout of people ages 18-24.

According to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters post-November 2016 election report, voters age 18-24 in the county had a 63.6 percent voter turnout rate compared to a 75.2 percent rate for voters ages 25-34 and 83.6-89.4 percent turnout rates for older age groups.

The 2014 elections saw an even lower voter turnout rate for that 18-24 age group. According to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change’s California Civic Engagement Project, only 30.9 percent of California’s eligible voters came out to vote and the 18-24 age voter turnout was the lowest for all groups for a general election with only 8.2 percent of the state’s eligible youth voters casting ballots.

“We want to ensure a lifelong sense of engagement and instill a lifelong sense of voting at an early age,” Low said during a press conference held alongside youth commissioners. “This habit of engagement is important for the future of democracy and I know that will be continuing the type of work that we have ahead of us.”

Campbell youth commissioner Ali Bell also took to the podium at the press conference to address “stereotypes” she says she’s heard about younger Californians and why they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. She said she’s heard things like “underdeveloped mind” or “being too immature” to describe teenagers.

“I realize it’s not the people that we know who are the ones we deny freedom to, but it is the people we don’t know and don’t understand who we exclude and we stereotype because it is easier,” Ali said. “Let today not stand for what is easy but stand for the inclusion of all people in our democracy.”

Campbell Middle School student Parker Quick compared the current bill to the Vietnam War-era effort to lower the federal voting age from 21 to 18.

“In 1970 when my grandpa was 18, he was part of a movement in response to the Vietnam War, and fought to lower the voting age to 18. Now, 47 years later I am with him to lower the voting age from 18 to 17,” Parker said. “We trust 16- and 17-year-olds to drive cars. We should trust them to vote as well.”

Parker also said that most 17-year-olds are learning civics and how government at the state and national level works in high school. She argued that being able to vote would allow them to put what they’re learning into practice.

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According to Holland, ACA 10 is on its third reading on the Assembly floor, and should it get past the Assembly, it would go to the state Senate for review and potentially a vote.

After speaking to the press and meeting with younger assembly members, the commissioners had a question-and-answer session with Low and his staff. They also got quick crash courses in topics that Low’s staff and assembly members concede may not immediately excite younger Californians.

“So who gets excited when they hear the word ‘infrastructure?’” District 24 Assemblyman Marc Berman, 36, playfully asked the commissioners. “Nobody who is younger in their right mind gets excited about infrastructure,” he added before listing roads, fire stations, police headquarters and parks as examples of infrastructure. “These are things that we, the younger generation, will be using for the next 50 years, 60 years or 70 years.”

Berman also told teens about his time serving as a young city councilman in Palo Alto.

“I was the youngest at the time, 32, and the next youngest was 50,” Berman said. “We look at things differently. We, the younger generation, look at the long term and that’s a critically important perspective to have in government, politics, in the people that are deciding to vote on millions or billions of dollars.”

Teens also toured the capitol grounds, which includes the state assembly, state senate, elected representatives’ offices and the governor’s office.

The group also got to witness a protest outside the governor’s office. Supporters were singing and chanting their support for Senate Bill 54, which would prevent local and state law enforcement from using state resources to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officers. As commissioners were walking through the area listening to the chanting, they could be heard whispering among themselves and asking staff members for more information about the bill.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

California lawmakers said Tuesday that they plan to protect young adults whose immigration status is jeopardized by the end of the DACA program. 

At news conference at the Capitol attended by more than 20 legislators, Senate Speaker Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said California should be "beacon of hope and opportunity."

“We’re not going to allow one single executive decision on DACA to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, economic output and our sense of global responsibility," he said. 

Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), chair of the Legislative LGBT Caucus, said Trump's other actions against Muslims and transgender service members don't show a commitment to diversity. 

“Our president clearly wasn't held enough as a child," he said. "It’s important that we talk about how we embrace love.”

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), chairman of the Legislative Jewish Caucus, called the President's decision "evil."

"He has lulled and lured young people to register with the government ... and then take that information and use it as a tool to deport them," Levine said. "That is ethnic cleansing." 

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said there are up to 20 bills in the Legislature that protect immigrant rights. 

"Young people who know no other country than this need to know that their country will do the right thing," he said. "This Legislature will be leading the way and making sure that California does the right thing." 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Naava Ellenberg is a graduate of Lincoln High School who is attending Barnard College. She wrote this for The Mercury News.

Many 18-year-olds are registered for their first semester of college classes, but very few of them are registered to vote. As adults in a democracy, young people have this great privilege and responsibility, yet very few take advantage of the opportunity. Their disregard is not the result of indifference or immaturity, but of an overwhelming amount of new responsibilities.

Most 18-year-olds are transitioning to college or the workforce. Their email inboxes are filled with reminders to select classes, meal plans, and housing. Because many are trying to acquire jobs and money to pay rent, registering to vote is not a priority.

As a result, youth voters in California have the lowest turnout rate of any age demographic. If young voters don’t turn out, it can mean their issues and priorities will be ignored by elected officials and they will never establish a habit of voting that would carry on into adulthood.

Voter turnout is not just low among young people. While 75.27 percent of Californians voted in the 2016 election, a mere 42 percent voted in the 2014 midterm elections. Increasing voter turnout must be a priority because when more people vote, our elected officials and the bills passed more accurately represent the citizens.

One solution to the problem of low voter turnout is lowering the voting age. Doing so would begin the habit of voting at a more stable time in a young person’s life and lead to a much higher voter turnout rate in California.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10 (ACA 10) is a bipartisan constitutional amendment, authored by Assemblyman Evan Low that would lower the voting age from 18 to 17 in California. This may seem like a minor shift, but it would be pivotal in youth turnout for elections. Additionally, it would increase overall voter turnout in the long term as these engaged youth continue to vote in all future elections.

At 17, most teens are taking a civics class in school, yet they are unable to play a role in the subjects they are studying. ACA 10’s enactment would allow students to become active participants in the legislative process they are studying. Teachers could encourage voter registration, schools could be polling locations on election day, and voting will become as much of a senior class tradition as homecoming and pep rallies.

Research has shown that the greatest indicator of whether or not someone will vote in an election is whether they voted in the last one. By passing ACA 10 and actively encouraging 17-year-olds to register and vote, voter turnout is likely to increase. After that first vote is cast at 17, a habit will be formed, and those who voted will then be more likely to vote in the next election. ACA 10 will catch youth at a time when they are still connected to their school, their home, and their community, rather than expecting their first ballot to be cast at a time when their lives are in transition.

The age of 18 will always be the time of class registration, a new place to live, and finding a job. Let 17 be the time to vote and support the passage of ACA 10.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The group started with a question.

Paul came to Sacramento as a science and technology fellow, after getting his doctorate in molecular Biology.

His program introduces scientists to the policy-side they may need to accomplish their work, while providing technical experience to legislative offices.

He was placed in Assemblymember Evan Low’s office, who chairs the LGBT Caucus. He became an LGBT consultant for the caucus, a role the prior person left open.

That meant he went around and spoke with LGBT people in the Capitol, asking, what would they like to see from the caucus?

 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

By Scott Herhold

Sometimes it takes criticism from another quarter to make you understand your own beliefs. That’s the way I feel about California’s ban on official travel to states that are seen as hostile to LGBT rights.

When California’s new law went into effect at the beginning of the year, it banned paid travel by state employees to Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. I saw it as a symbolic move that did not offer much grist for a columnist. The culture wars tire me.

Now Attorney General Xavier Becerra has added Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas to the list. And on social media and elsewhere, the red states have retaliated with mocking attacks at California’s political correctness.

“It’s funny how the very state that is so adamantly against keeping terrorists out of our country — they opposed the president’s travel ban — now wants to keep California out of Texas,” said Marc Rylander, the communications director for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “I guess that’s California logic.”

Now I’ve always liked Texans. They speak their mind and they’re unafraid to be quoted. I understand politics, too, and attacking California is always good politics in the South.

But Rylander’s comment departs so far from logic that I’m tempted to say that California should warn citizens away from the Texas attorney general’s office.

Aside from the words “travel ban,” there is no real comparison between the president’s travel ban from Muslim countries and a California law written by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Cupertino, to emphasize commitment to LGBT rights.

Donald Trump’s order affects broad classes of people, curtailing their freedom for things not in their control. California’s travel ban is narrowly crafted — it affects publicly-funded travel by state employees — and the states on the banned list have the power to change their approach to LGBT rights. Sacramento is not trying to say that Californians cannot visit Texas on their own.

Is the California law perfect? No. It leaves a lot to interpretation. And Gov. Jerry Brown seemed to flout its intent with a trip to China, which bans gay marriage and does not extend the same kind of rights to its LGBT citizens.

(California’s law does include a few exceptions, like trips meant to retain grant funding or collections, or necessary travel by law enforcement. The attorney general’s office said Friday it has yet to issue an opinion on whether the ban will eventually apply to athletic staff members from UC and CSU, which could affect games.)

But the criticism from the banned states ignores history. A resolution from Tennessee lawmakers, for example, says, “we urge the other 48 states to refrain from imposing their unfounded moral judgment on their sister states as California has done to prevent escalating foolishness.”

Unfounded? Almost anyone who has grown up gay or lesbian or transgender can tell you stories of prejudice and bullying they have faced. As the most successful civil rights movement of the last four decades, the cause of gay rights has relied on the willingness to confront that prejudice directly — in large part by coming out of the closet.

California’s travel ban to the eight states is a modest thing, a symbolic rather than an economic weapon. But the criticism it engenders should remind us of where we stand. The defense of civil rights is a moral judgment, yes, and one that all Americans ought to share

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

South Bay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Los Angeles Sen. Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) were in a mischievous mood when they stopped by KQED’s Sacramento bureau recently to talk about their paths to the State Legislature as openly gay men.

Low is chair of the Legislature’s LGBT caucus and Lara is vice chair. Both men arrived wearing appropriately lavender ties and Low playfully sat on Lara’s lap to pose for a photo.

It wasn’t always so easy to be public about their sexual orientation.  Low remembers his very first campaign for local office more than a decade ago. At the time, many of his friends knew he was gay — but his parents did not. That changed after a local reporter covering the race found out.

“And then on the front page of the paper it said ‘Evan Low, 21 years old, Chinese American and openly gay runs for city council.’  I had to tell them before they read that local paper,” Low recalls.

At the time, Low says, it was hard finding the words to tell his parents.

“Even in the Chinese culture, the word, they always said openly gay but the translation they would use is “admits.” Like an admission of guilt.

Low is fourth generation California but when he was growing up “no one talked about LGBT, there was no one on TV so I found myself stumbling through Barnes & Noble getting lost in the gay and lesbian books section,”

Now 34 years old and serving his second term in the Assembly, Low says he’s been shaped by those early experiences in his work as a legislator.

For his part, Senator Lara, 42, is unabashedly liberal. He’s one of the lead supporters of SB 562, legislation that would help create a single payer (or “Medicare for all”) health care system in California. Lara says as a gay man he feels an obligation to tackle big issues, even when they’re controversial.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants that have come before us in the LGBT caucus that have pushed these big issues,” Lara said. “As legislators we need to have those discussions but we also have to figure out how to get this (single payer) right.”

Like Low, Lara describes his coming out as overcoming isolation.

“Growing up in East L.A., I really didn’t see any role models in West Hollywood,” Lara says. “All I would see were white men.” It was only when he went to college that he met other out Latinos “with our own gay Latin icons with telenovela stars and singers.”

Lara says his coming out was made easier because his youngest brother Vinny came out first. “He came out with guns ablazing,” Lara jokes, “he was like ‘I don’t care, I want to go fashion school. ‘” It was a long process, but Lara says his relationship with his father is on firm footing

As legislators Low and Lara see part of their job as being open to questions from colleagues about their personal stories and how they relate to their thinking on issues.

As Lara puts it, “I’ve had my Republican colleagues come to me sometimes after a heated debate on something that’s passionate for me and say ‘I get it, I understand.’ Because they understand my story, my upbringing and what I care about.”

Being openly gay also gives their colleagues in the Legislature a safe place to share family stories — a sounding board for how to support their LGBT children and other family members.

The LGBT caucus was created 15 years ago by Sen. Sheila Kuehl and others. Today the caucus has eight members, including Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes from Riverside County and two from Stockton — Assemblymember Susan Eggman and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani.

In the earliest days of the gay and lesbian rights movement, the leadership was sometimes criticized for being mostly male and white. As Asian and Latino Americans, Low and Lara  hoping to broaden the movement.

“We’re really showing mainstream gay culture that there’s a place for us to integrate all our communities into our LGBT caucus movement,” Lara said.