Voting Rights Debate Gathering Momentum

The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously for the “Political Enfranchisement of 16 and 17-year-olds for Local Elections” Resolution.

It says a lot that these seven School Board members believe students should be able to vote them in or out of office. Even better, the Board is looking ahead to the November ballot that is expected to include a proposed charter amendment to lower the voting age for the SF School Board as well as City and County Board of Supervisors officials. On April 12, the Board also approved teaching high school students about the voting process and the significant political parties. The school district is also expected to offer voter registration drives at high schools at least once a year.

Jillian Wu, Vice Chair of the SF Youth Commission, told Board members that a recent survey of 5,000 students showed that 80 percent of youth would be willing to vote if given the opportunity. She testified that suffrage is important for all high school students, but “especially those who do not have family members or community members who vote or are able to vote.”

The students knew they had four votes in favor of the resolution but won over the other three Board members, no doubt helped by the standing room only crowd, compelling testimony and their powerpoint presentation.

Balboa High School Senior Shara Orquiza makes the case:

“San Francisco is our home too. We should have a say on what goes on in our communities. We’ve never been given an opportunity to take direct action on issues we care about until this initiative came around. Young people like me are experiencing a rapidly changing San Francisco and we deserve to have a say in the direction of our city.”

Orquiza says she was first inspired to participate more in the political process after taking an Ethnic Studies course at her high school.

Next step: May 3, 2016 SF Board of Supervisors will hold its first ever joint meeting with the Youth Commission about Vote16SF and other measures to boost turnout. Last November, only 45 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

For update, check out http://vote16sf.org/ as well as more information on the two cities outside of Washington, DC that have already lowered the voting age to 16 and national organizations that are actively supporting SF and other youth suffrage efforts.