Reducing voting age to 16 is on the ballot for voters in California city

Culver City, California voters will decide if 16- and 17-year-olds can participate in future elections, potentially changing the electorate in the Los Angeles County suburb.

If passed, Measure VY will lower the voting age to 16 for city and school board elections, putting it in the extreme minority across the country.

Supporters of the initiative argue that at 16, young people are able to work and pay taxes, therefore they have a right to vote. Opponents of the measure say 16-year-olds are too willful and easily persuaded to drive policy and that allowing them to vote will mean an advantage for liberal progressives.

“Conservatives and even some centrist Democrats also fear that allowing traditionally left-leaning young people to vote would disproportionately help progressive politicians and causes,” the LA Times reported.

Alameda County, California and several cities in Maryland currently allow 16 and 17-year-old citizens to vote in local elections. Takoma Park, Maryland, the first to approve such a measure, is located near the University of Maryland College Park campus where most of the research and support for teen voting originated.

A similar ballot measure failed in San Francisco in 2020 despite having support from 49.2 percent of the population, falling just short of the necessary votes.

“In 2016, Berkeley became the first municipality in California to approve such a measure for school board elections, followed by its Alameda County neighbor Oakland four years later,” according to the LA Times. “But the county has yet to implement the measure, which does not have a mechanism to force its rollout, so 16- and 17-year-olds in both cities are still unable to vote.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly tried to amend the constitution to make 16 the national voting age but the measures die without support. Argentina, Austria and Malta currently allow voters as young as 16.

“By really involving people in democracy from a young age, a value of participation will be instilled in them so going forward they’ll be much more habitual, well-informed voters,” said 17-year-old senior Ada Meighan-Thiel as she canvassed houses in her neighborhood, hoping to drum up support for the cause.

Many teens feel they have to get involved to clean up the messes of older generations and the sooner they can do so, the better.

“This is my issue, this is my life that I live through that I should be in charge of instead of having adults make all the decisions,” said 16-year-old Melisa Rodriguez of Oakland. “So pushing this is really empowering for me and my community. To be able to do this, it just says a lot of good things about us and our future and future generations.”

But while young people vocally support the initiative, politicians and residents in Culver City are speaking out against it, saying with all that’s going on in the world, now is the “time for mature thinking.”

Steven Gourley, a retired lawyer and former mayor, councilman and school board president, is leading the charge against the initiative in Culver City. He wrote letters of opposition to the local paper, filed official opposition papers with the city, and created a website against the measure.

“These are not elections with training wheels so your children can ‘warm up’ for the BIG elections,” his “No on VY” website reads. “These ARE big elections to elect the people who make traffic and parking easier or harder; increase or decrease your police department; keep Culver City safe from the lawless elements that surround us; keep the homeless off our streets; keep pot stores away from our schools; or increase taxes to pay reparations to people of color. Can you imagine our school board or our city council caving in on issues regarding shorter school hours or fewer days of school in order to carry the ‘high school vote’?”

Gourley, a lifelong Democrat, believes the measure is a ploy by progressives to garner support for far-left policies.

“They’re trying to expand the electorate so they can get reelected,” he said.

Gourley is also against the additional costs of implementing the measure.

“Because the 16- and 17-year-old vote must be counted separately by Culver City, not by the County of Los Angeles, allowing 16-year-olds to vote will cost the City of Culver City an additional $40,000 each election,” he said. “Now is the time for mature thinking.”

Culver City’s mayor supports the initiative, however.

“Studies show that the earlier someone really starts to participate in the voting process, the more likely it will be a longtime thing,” he said.

Generation Citizen, a New York-based education organization, helped launch the national Vote 16 campaign and has provided resources to Culver City, including technological assistance, communications support and campaign strategy advice.

“California is poised to be a groundswell and a laboratory of informed democratic representation, and I think that’s what Culver City being on the ballot on Tuesday represents,” said Andrew Wilkes, Generation Citizen’s chief policy and advocacy officer. “It’s pretty remarkable that through a pandemic you had folks there that didn’t let it go.”

Miles Griffin, a 17-year-old senior at Culver City High, is working with Generation Citizen and local advocates to get the measure passed.

“I think voting and having a voice in general is kind of the issue to end all issues. Because unless you can vote, unless you have a voice, you can’t make any kind of difference,” Griffin said. “If policy affects people, then they should have a say in that policy.”


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