For many young people, turning 16 grants coveted rights to drive a car and start a first job. In San Francisco, it may mean helping to choose the mayor and other city leaders. San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos last week offered a proposal to lower the voting age to 16. He will seek to put the measure on the ballot this November or next year. “In a lot of ways, young people have been showing that they have the ability to shape the world they live in,” Avalos said in a telephone interview. “It makes a lot of sense that we honor that work with helping them to elect the people representing them.”
There’s precedent for allowing younger teens to vote in municipal elections. The Washington suburb of Takoma Park, Maryland, authorized 16-year-olds to vote two years ago, followed by its neighbor, Hyattsville, in January. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law in September that allows those 16 and older to pre-register to vote at 18. Avalos’s plan would allow teens to vote only in city elections, not for state or federal candidates, including president.
“It’s a spectacularly bad idea,” said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “Sixteen-year-olds aren’t ready to vote. They lack the knowledge, the intellectual maturity and the judgment.”
If a 16-year-old can drive, get a job and be sent to prison, he should also have a chance to vote, said Oliver York, 15, a sophomore at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco.