San Jose Mercury News: West Valley teens travel to Sacramento to advocate for lowering voting age
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.