2016 Election: Expanding Voting Rights to HS Students

You may have missed one decisive victory this election. Voters in Alameda County, California supported expanding voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds in Berkeley School Board elections by a huge 68.5% margin.

This is a significant step that gives actual meaning to “student voice”—the primary stakeholders—regarding school curriculum, policies and funding. Now every future candidate running for the Board of Education will be accountable to those in the classroom, not only the two “Student Directors.”

Here’s an informative and inspiring account by one of the activists behind this ballot question:

In my own high school, young people have led the way to create change, from protesting racial hate crimes to proposing new sexual harassment policy to the Berkeley School Board. My peers inspire me to include more young people into the political conversation.

The San Francisco School Board unanimously supported a similar ballot proposition as Berkeley that also would have lowered the voting age to 16 for other local elected officials, including candidates for SF Mayor and the County Board of Supervisors. This Charter Amendment lost by only 11,500 votes (pending final count by the Board of Elections).

When I phone banked for this proposal, a number of SF voters told me they were overwhelmed by all 25 ballot questions and didn’t have time to study the arguments pro and con. To listen to compelling testimony by dozens of students, here are highlights from the public hearing back in May.

Reactions about this close vote in SF soon…check out previous blog about the leading researcher on “teenage brain” who supports lowering the vote age.

Moving forward, Generation Citizen has launched “Beyond The Ballot 2016” along with a free toolkit.

Vote@16 continued!

This update on prior blog of what’s happening around the country includes some heavyweights backing youth suffrage.

A new info-packed VOTE16USA report by Generation Citizen that is explicit on youth-driven campaigns.

RATIONALE: “Youth are affected by local political issues, including education funding, school board decisions, employment initiatives, police programs, and public works projects. They work without limits on hours and pay taxes on their income, can drive in most states, and in some cases, are tried in adult courts. Fifty-eight percent of youth participate in volunteer  activities, and many 16- and 17-year olds have been living in their communities for years and feel a deep connection to local issues.3 They deserve the right to vote on issues that affect them on the local level.”

YOUTH-LED: “The push to lower the voting age must be led by those we aim to enfranchise, and the voices of youth must be at the center of the public discourse on this issue… Media attention and interview requests should be directed toward young people working on local campaigns, while informal online initiatives (videos, blog posts, social media contests, etc.) can let other young people add their voices to the conversation. Generation Citizen has formed a Youth Advisory Board comprised of young people working on voting age campaigns around the country to begin to elevate young voices on the issue.”


  • Teenage Brain” expert Laurence Steinberg and  author of Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence.  “If science were an important consideration in setting the age of majority — as I think it should be — a reasonable starting point would be to distinguish between two sets of laws: those for activities that involve cold cognition and those for ones involving hot cognition. Cold cognition is relevant to matters such as voting or granting informed consent for medical procedures, for example. Adolescents can gather evidence, consult with others and take time before making a decision. Adolescents may make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they won’t make them any more often than adults. The last time we lowered the voting age in the United States was 1971. We’ve learned a lot about adolescence since then — enough that we should now lower the voting age to 16.” LA Times op-ed
  • U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) tweeted “I think the voting age should be lowered to 16. What do you think?” In an interview he says, “Sixteen-year-old students need to raise their voices. A lot of people beyond [them] could benefit from their vote.”
  • Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins, American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds are Ready to Vote. “American 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be allowed to vote in state and national elections. This claim rests upon a line of argument that begins with an exegesis of legal and philosophical notions of citizenship that identify core qualities of citizenship: membership, concern for rights, and participation in society. Each of these qualities is present in rudimentary form in childhood and adolescence. Analyses of national survey data demonstrate that by 16 years of age—but not before— American adolescents manifest levels of development in each quality of citizenship that are approximately the same as those apparent in young American adults who are allowed to vote. The lack of relevant differences in capacities for citizenship between 16- and 17-year-olds and those legally enfranchised makes current laws arbitrary, denying those younger than age 18 the right to vote. Awarding voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is important, given the changing age demographics in the country, which have resulted in the growing block of older voters displacing the interests of younger Americans in the political arena. Finally, the authors critically examine claims that adolescents are neither neurologically nor socially mature enough to vote responsibly and conclude that empirical evidence and fairness suggest that 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be awarded the vote.”  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 63 (January 2011), pp. 201-221.
  • Gallup Poll.  “For over the past three decades, Americans have said the single most important purpose of public schooling was to prepare people to become responsible citizens.” Rose, L. C., & Gallup, A. M. (2000). The 32nd annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 82, 41-57.

For more details about past efforts, recent victories and ongoing campaigns to extend voting rights to 16-year-olds, check out Vote@16! Join the Debate

Want to get involved wherever you live?  Please let us know. Email wendy@youthactivismproject.org.