A new assembly bill would give more California high school seniors the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, Senator Henry Stern’s office announced Friday.
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10, co-authored by Stern, would lower the state voting age to 17 years old. According to a statement from Stern’s office, people 18-24 have the lowest voter turnout statewide. Only 8.2 percent of young eligible voters participated in the 2014 general election, the statement said.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Stern said in a statement. “And yet, half of our high school seniors are left sitting on the sidelines, learning about government in theory, but unable to cast that crucial first vote in their hometown where civic habits are built.”
The amendment will require a two-thirds vote of both houses and the state legislature, as well as the approval of voters to pass.
This amendment is a product of Stern’s main piece of legislation, Senate Bill 596, which will allow all high school students to elect a youth representative from each school for a statewide commission. Stern said no one gets handed the right to vote, and teens must fight for it like women and African-Americans had to.
“If we built that commission and young people actually got organized and we gave them an opening in Sacramento to have their voices heard, then they can push for that right (to vote) themselves,” Stern said.
Pollsters say currently, millennial voter turnout is “statistically insignificant,” Stern said. However, Stern said teens’ civic habits are not being built just by voting for student government and prom queen because those do not affect their college debt or their course content.
“Do you like what you’re seeing from your state and federal government, and if you don’t, are you willing to fight for the right to change that?” Stern said.
Teens are likely to be passionate about public safety, homelessness, drugs, education, LGBT issues, climate change and the environmental, according to Stern. He also said more than choosing a political party, young people will likely vote independently.
Assemblyman Evan Low, who introduced the amendment, said teenagers face taxation without representation by working and not being able to vote.
“Young people are our future,” Low said in a statement. “Lowering the voting age will help give them a voice in the democratic process and instill a lifelong habit of voting.”
According to the statement, the earlier in life a person starts to vote, the more likely they are to vote in the future. Many 18-year-olds are transitioning from high school to college or a job, and lowering the voting age to 17 will engage teens while they are still connected to their high school, home and community, the statement continued.
ACA 10 presents a critical opportunity to build this voting habit, Speaker Pro Tem and the amendment’s principal co-author Kevin Mullin said.
“If someone can be truly engaged in the voting process through their high school civics class, then we have the opportunity to get more students to cast ballots and start what we hope would be a lifelong habit of civic engagement,” Mullin said in a statement.
California is currently one of 11 states that allows 16-year-olds to preregister to vote. Additionally, 22 states and Washington D.C. allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections or caucuses if they will be 18 before the general election, the statement said.
There are also two cities in Maryland that allow 16-year-olds to vote in municipal elections, one since 2013 and the other since 2015.
A senate elections committee hearing will be held at a Reseda High School next Friday, March 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. to discuss this legislation.
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