Sixteen-year-olds can drive, work, pay taxes and be sentenced to life in prison. Now, some want the right to vote, too. On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos will attempt to make that happen by introducing a measure that would extend the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds. Avalos and other supporters say it will encourage civic engagement among youths and instill in them lifelong voting habits at a time when turnout is low. Detractors call the measure foolhardy at best and at worst a political ploy by progressives to try and win more votes from young people, who tend to lean liberal in their voting. “I have seen the power of young people to be able to make changes and positive contributions to their community, and it makes sense to give them the right to vote,” Avalos said.
In January, the San Francisco Youth Commission passed a resolution urging the expansion of voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds. Avalos is proposing a city charter amendment. It would require the votes of six of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to place an initiative on the ballot — voters would have the final say. The change would apply only to city election
If it passed, the measure would make San Francisco the first major U.S. city to lower the voting age. In the past two years, two small cities in Maryland, Takoma Park and Hyattsville, lowered their voting age to 16.
“You can drive, you can work, you can pay taxes and you can be tried in adult court, and yet you are denied the right to vote,” said San Francisco Youth Commissioner Joshua Cardenas, an 18-year-old senior at Archbishop Riordan High School who has not yet had an opportunity to vote. “There is a contradiction there. Certainly, they have the knowledge and competence to vote at 16.”