#Vote16 The Current State of Efforts to Lower the Voting Age in the United States
A report by Jonathan Crisman & Tyler Hiebert University of Southern California Commissioned by Khmer Girls in Action May 2017
#Vote16 The Current State of Efforts to Lower the Voting Age in the United States
A report by Jonathan Crisman & Tyler Hiebert University of Southern California Commissioned by Khmer Girls in Action May 2017
Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Crisman and Tyler Hiebert All rights reserved. All images are copyright their respective owners. Designed by Jonathan Crisman and typeset in Publico and Akkurat. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Please share freely. This report was prepared by the authors for Khmer Girls in Action (KGA), a non-profit organization based in Long Beach, California, under the auspices of the Liberty Hill Foundation’s Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change and the Research, Practice, and Social Change class taught in USC’s Annenberg School by Barbara Osborn and Sandra Ball-Rokeach. Contact the authors at: email@example.com
New Jersey campaign poster from 1969 in favor of ratifying the 26th Amendment.
Since the passage of the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution which lowered the voting age to 18, many Americans have believed that we have total enfranchisement. However, the assumption that anyone under the age of 18 should not be able to vote has come under increasing scrutiny around the world and within several cities in the United States. The impacts of not having 16 and 17 year-olds vote is signiďŹ cant. Non-peer reviewed studies have suggested that a lowered voting
age would have kept the UK in the EU (Generation Citizen, 2016) and would likely have cost Trump the presidency or even the primary (Brennan, 2016). Though teenagers are in many ways the most impacted by the future, they have little to no political voice in the United States. While the voting age will likely not be lowered at the national level in the US for some time, it can and already has been successfully lowered at the local level over the past several years.
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This report was prepared by two researchers from the University of Southern California for Khmer Girls in Action (KGA), a youth organizing non-proﬁt located in Long Beach, California. KGA requested this research under the auspices of the Liberty Hill Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change, a program which provides coaching and consulting to grantees of its parent social justice granting foundation. KGA began with the belief that Long Beach teenagers should have the right to vote in local elections, and the authors of this report agree with their assessment based on their experience and ﬁndings through the research process. The fundamental issue of human rights indicates that lowering the voting age ought to be a fundamental goal of democratic nations regardless of possible positive externalities of such action, such as encouraging long-term civic engagement or increasing voter turnout. Furthermore, there is little conclusive evidence to suggest that instinctive public opinions regarding the immaturity of youth voters is founded in anything other than prejudice—and prejudices regarding immaturity are just as easily levelled at older voters. In order to better understand how the voting age can be lowered, and what the implications of such a goal are, a multi-method study of the issue of lowering the voting age in the United States was conducted. Four basic areas were considered: a brief literature review was conducted on current empirical research which examined the eﬀects of lowering the voting age; a media analysis was conducted using quantitative and qualitative data gathered from traditional and social media;
semi-structured interviews were conducted with individuals involved in several campaigns to lower the voting age, which were paired with additional data to form a series of case studies; and a legal analysis of voting law particularly focused on Long Beach was conducted. Additional notes on the various methods used in this review are noted in respective section introductions. This study also opens up numerous additional areas of possible further research. More empirical data is needed on what the outcomes have been of other eﬀorts to lower the voting age. And the study gets at fundamental philosophical questions regarding the point at which an individual becomes capable of political voice. Current eﬀorts to lower the voting age have focused most often on the age of 16 which carries cultural signiﬁcance as the age at which one can drive and work—but what of lowering the voting age further? How far is far enough—or too far? For now, we hope this study points to the plausibility and potential embedded within the idea of lowering the voting age—an idea which may strike an initial note of doubt or concern by those unaccustomed to it, but one which we believe will be accepted as reasonable and warranted with time. The authors would like thank all of the individuals who agreed to be interviewed for this report, Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Barbara Osborn who oﬀered feedback throughout the development of this project, our colleagues in the Research, Practice, and Social Change group of 2017, and Lian Cheun and Omar Cardenas of Khmer Girls in Action who ﬁrst initiated the research question.
Literature Review While there have been a growing number of movements to lower the voting age across the United States, they have garnered relatively little scholarly attention. Most of the relevant scholarly literature has focused on Austria and Norway which lowered the voting age to 16. These two countries are seen as “test-tubes” in analyzing the arguments surrounding lowering the voting age. The ﬁndings from Austria and Norway have garnered attention in several discourses about lowering the voting age in the US. However, these two contexts and the discourse surrounding them have been misreported within some of the promotional materials by both sides. Three main issues are focused on within this literature review—empirical ﬁndings related to lowering the voting age, human rights and voting age and public opinion.
A group of children meet United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar as the General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Photo credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant.
Maturity and Participation Opponents of lowering the voting age to 16 often argue that that youth are too immature to vote. There is conﬂicting evidence on whether reducing the voting age to 16 has an overall positive impact on participation and/or maturity (Chan & Clayton, 2006; Hofer et al, 2008; Bhatti et al, 2012; Bergh, 2012). While there does not appear to be evidence that enfranchising 16-yearolds increases voter turnout (Zegovits & Aicholzer, 2014; Bergh, 2012), many of these same scholars argue that this does not mean that 16-year-olds are too immature or unmotivated to vote (Zegovits & Aicholzer, 2014). However, other scholars have argued that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to vote based on national surveys of political engagement and knowledge of politics (Bergh, 2012; Chan & Clayton, 2006). One problem with these studies is the wide-ranging conceptions of “success”—from “maturity” to “voter turnout”. The assumptions implicit within concepts such as “maturity” or capacity to vote are highly problematic from a structural point of view (Lau, 2012). In addition, while these
studies oﬀer interesting evidence about the impact of enfranchising 16-year-olds, they may not have much bearing on the American context. No major studies have been conducted on voter turnout among 16-yearolds in the United States. Evidence from two cities which have lowered the voting age to 16 suggests that it improves voter turnout in local elections (Wogan, 2013). However, neither of these two cities provide useful data since most politicians in local elections in Takoma Park and Hyattsville have run unopposed (Mullin, 2013). Further work is need within the American context to establish the parallels or disparities with Austria and Norway.
Human Rights and International Law Some scholars argue that this is a human rights issue, which makes the arguments about the impact of lowering the voting age mute (Grover, 2010; Munn, 2012). It seems only common sense to argue that all
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humans have human rights, thus limiting voters to those over 18 violates the very idea of the “right to vote.” Indeed, it might be worth pointing out that those over the age of80 may not be the most knowledgeable voters. Disenfranchising older voters is absurd, and so is limiting the voting age to 18 argue some scholars (Grover, 2010). One can further argue that international law requires a younger voting age. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was signed by the US but not ratiﬁed, aﬃrms that a child has the right “to express those views freely in all matters aﬀecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” (CRC, Article 12). Since many societies treat 16-year-olds as adults there is an argument from Customary Law for enfranchising 16 year-olds. Regardless of whether Article 12 can be used for lowering the voting age universally for all elections, it clearly does make an argument that youth ought to have a say in things such as school board elections.
Public Opinion There is a considerable lack of research relating to public views of dropping the voting age to 16 (Birch et al, 2015). The little data that there is paints a mostly negative picture. The largest amount of data comes from the UK where questions about voting age have been included in several national surveys. A national report from the UK notes, “there appears to be insuﬃcient current justiﬁcation for a change to the voting age at the present time” (McCallister, 2014). Cross-nationally support for lowering the voting age is extremely low—in Australia it is less than 4% (2010), in New Zealand it is 7% (2014), in Britain it is less than 22% (2004) and even in Scotland it is as low as 36% (2014). No national surveys which have considered lowering the voting age in the US.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was signed by the US but not ratiﬁed, aﬃrms that a child has the right “to express those views freely in all matters aﬀecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” (CRC, Article 12).
Media Analysis One issue which has not been addressed in previous literature is the impact of both social media and traditional media on the 16 to vote campaigns. The role of media in American politics cannot be overstated; it can easily make or break a campaign by framing the issues for voters (Graber & Dunaway, 2014). The role of social media in political campaigns is still not fully understood, but it represents one of the most important new tools for galvanizing support within social movements. In order to better understand the role of media in previous campaigns, and possible future ones, a thematic fame analysis was conducted of both social media and traditional news media. Social media data was gathered through both qualitative and quantitative scraping of Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Data for traditional media was scraped from Google News, LexisNexis and other news aggregator sites. All the data was analyzed using thematic analysis and thematic frame analysis (Guest, et al, 2011; Kuyper, 2011).
Social Media An in-depth media analysis was conducted of traditional media and social media for content related
A social media campaign from Vote16USA, a project of Generation Citizen.
to lowering the voting age to 16. Despite the growing number of movements to lower the voting age there is not a signiﬁcant amount of content related to the issue on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Facebook and Twitter were chosen because of their popularity with people between the ages of 13-24. The image on the left shows the relative interest of teenagers for each of the top social media sites. Facebook has very little content related to lowering the voting age. It was not eﬀectively used by organizations attempting to lower the voting age. The most popular Facebook groups who support lowering the voting age to 16 have not surpassed 200 followers or 500 likes. The impact factors for posts from these groups—such as those related to campaigning—have been minimal. For example, an analysis of the amount of content shared by one group showed that its posts got between zero and one shares per post.
Graph showing relative interest of teenagers for various social media platforms.
While some organizations such as the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) and the campaign to lower the voting age in San Francisco attempted to use Twitter—neither have had a large impact in terms of the
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Article from the San Francisco Chronicle after the Board of Supervisors put lowering the voting age to a referendum.
number of tweets or use of hashtags. There are an insigniﬁcant number of tweets on the issue from statistical standpoint, which rules out quantitative analysis. While Twitter has not seen a successful hashtag campaign, some useful insights might be gained from perusing tweets by some of the larger organizations. It is certainly possible that other social media sites were used by 16 to vote movements, but no quantitative or qualitative data could be gathered relating to those sites. It may be helpful to interview local youth about which social media sites they prefer to use for spreading the word and discussing politics.
Traditional Media Social media plays an important role within social movements. However, traditional media remains important in the “framing” of large political issues. In order to better understand the role of traditional media within these movements, a thematic frame analysis was
conducted of newspaper portrayals of 16 to vote campaigns in national media and media within the state of California. Kuyper provides a useful deﬁnition of framing as, “a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they deﬁne problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea” (2006). Each of the thematic frames is exempliﬁed by a relevant quote. Four main thematic frames emerged from these news stories—two positive and two negative. Each frame plays into larger narratives, and counter-narratives, which impact voter behavior. 1. Youth are too immature to vote. One theme that emerged within larger newspapers was that youth are too immature to be involved in the democratic process. This was especially prevalent in
newspaper coverage of elections which extend beyond the local and municipal level. This framing of the issue plays on deeply seated assumptions which hampered the general enfranchisement of voters in the past and is likely still eﬀective within many voters’ who hold to more traditional views of civil society.
“Why not lower the voting age even more? One reason is that most young people do not know enough to cast an intelligent ballot.” — Christian Science Monitor (Pitney, 2015) 2. Lowering the voting age is a ploy of progressives. Another argument, commonly used against enfranchisement was that progressives were simply trying to get more votes. This theme emerged largely in response to the San Francisco movement, beginning with the San Francisco Chronicle. It is especially prevalent within Breitbart and other right-wing websites, but has emerged as a narrative by the Sacramento Bee as well in response to ACA 10. This frame automatically moves the dispute over voting age into the partisan realm of conservative vs progressive, which is extremely diﬃcult to overcome with other frames.
“Political scientist David Latterman [said] . . . that Avalos was trying to boost the ﬂagging fortunes of ‘progressives’ on the city council, ‘looking under the couch cushions to get more votes.’” — Breitbart (Bigelow, 2015)
3. Youth can drive cars and pay taxes, thus they ought to be able to vote. Some stories have attempted to counter the view that 16 year-olds are too immature by arguing that they have other signiﬁcant responsibilities such as driving cars and paying taxes. This appears to be an eﬀective framing of the classic “no taxation without representation” slogan. The two competing narratives surrounding the maturity of voters are not likely to persuade those who view the issue as simply a partisan one. However, it may be an eﬀective frame for those who are neutral about lowering the voting age.
“Deﬁning what age is ‘mature enough’ to vote is a big question, Koroknay-Palicz said. He added that with the numerous responsibilities a 16-year-old already can have, such as paying taxes and driving cars, young people should not be treated as second-class citizens.” — Daily Californian (Chu, 2016) 4. Lowering the voting age will increase both short- and long-term turnout/participation. NYRA and several other national organizations have used the data from Austria and Norway in discussions over lowering the voting age in the US. While several their leaders have published blog posts on leading news sites, these thematic frames have also emerged within other news stories about the issue. By framing lowering the voting age as an attempt to save democracy, advocates might be able to swing a few independent voters to their camp, but it still seems unlikely that it can overcome other frames (such as the ﬁrst and second ones).
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such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee tend to portray the movement more negatively (with an interesting exception being the Los Angeles Times). Smaller papers appear to run more stories about individuals within the campaigns—which tends to be more positive.
“Voting at 16 would make it easier to initiate new citizens in civic life. Above all, it would help guarantee the supply of young voters needed to preserve the vitality of democracy. Catch them early, and they will grow into better citizens.” — The Economist (D’Utino, 2017) While these thematic frames are prevalent within many newspapers, it appears that larger newspapers,
Ultimately, these thematic frames are likely to appear within discourses surrounding lowering the voting age more and more as the issue gains public attention. This has both positive and negative outcomes for Long Beach—the negative impact is that the issue has largely been framed within likely voters’ minds while the positive impact is that a campaign can attempt to control whether or not it engages in a highly public discourse about lowering the voting age. These thematic frames need to be considered from the standpoint of any campaign attempting to plan a media strategy.
Promotional materials from the National Youth Rights Associaion (NYRA) on the #16toVote campaign.
There have been numerous attempts to lower the voting age at the local, state, and national levels, not least of all demonstrated by the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was proposed in 1971 and ratiﬁed by the states only 3 months later, and which lowered the voting age for all elections in the US from 21 years old to 18 years old. At the time the amendment was ratiﬁed, some individual states had already lowered the voting age, demonstrating the often local and gradual nature of changes in US election practices. The movement to lower the voting age yet again has picked up steam recently, with its ﬁrst notable success in 2013 with the lowering of the voting age to 16 years old for municipal elections in Takoma Park, Maryland. Seven case studies of campaigns to lower the voting age have been selected, primarily on the basis of their having been recent campaigns which have either been
completed or are underway in a signiﬁcant way. There are several other examples of campaigns which occurred some time ago, or are in very nascent stages but these have not been considered for the purposes of this research. The cases range from large cities to small towns, on the east and west coasts, and at the local and state levels. A cluster of three cases—Takoma Park, Hyattsville, and Washington, DC—are all clustered around the Washington, DC metro area, and includes two small towns and the metropole of Washington, DC. Another cluster of two cases—Berkeley and San Francisco—are in California’s Bay Area and also includes a small town and a larger metropole. Finally, a cluster of two cases are at the state level in California. Variables in each case study to note include: •
the context of the area, such as its geography and demography;
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the particularities of the changes to voter eligibility, such as whether it is for all elections or only for school-related elections;
cessfully lowered the voting age for municipal elections to the age of 16 in 2013, the ﬁrst jurisdiction to do so since the voting age was lowered to 18 across the US.
the legal framework at work in the area;
the network of individuals who supported or were involved in the campaign, particularly including individuals in positions of power and established venues for a youth voice in the campaign;
and the messaging and framing used in the campaign;
and the media strategy and public engagement used in the campaign.
While it is one of many small suburbs around Washington, DC, Takoma Park is unique in that it is home to two important non-proﬁt organizations which were instrumental in the campaign to lower the voting age. In this sense, Takoma Park is a logical starting point for the recently reinvigorated eﬀort to lower the voting age across the nation. The ﬁrst non-proﬁt is FairVote, a non-partisan organization which “seeks to make democracy fair, functional, and more representative,” primarily through advocating for rank choice voting (RCV) which alleviates the perennial “picking the best of two bad options” issue often found in American two-party elections (FairVote, n.d.). FairVote was instrumental in bringing RCV to Takoma Park, which ﬁrst implemented it in 2006 after an overwhelmingly positive referendum in the year prior. The other non-proﬁt is the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA), which is an organization “dedicated to defending the civil and human rights of young people in the United States” (NYRA, n. d.). It sees issues such as lowering the voting age or age-based curfews through a human rights lens, and aims to combat ageism and age-based discrimination.
Case studies have been documented and analyzed primarily on the basis of interviews conducted with key participants from the respective campaign, along with additional documentation found in internet sources, traditional print media, and alternative media sources such as social media. The data gathered during interviews were analyzed using a thematic analysis.
Takoma Park, MD Takoma Park is a city in the state of Maryland of about 17,000 residents with a council–manager form of government, primarily existing as a commuter suburb within the greater Washington, DC metro area. It suc-
Montgomery County and Takoma Park highlighted in Maryland. Image source: Arkyan from Wikimedia
Another key factor in Takoma Park is the fact that it had already extended the franchise for local elections to non-citizens in 1991 through a referendum, suggesting an openness to the idea of allowing 16 and 17 yearolds to vote. A similar process started in 2003 where a local high school student in collaboration with NYRA attempted to create movement on the issue and to get a measure on the ballot. It received some positive attention but was not able to overcome the high threshold of signatures necessary for getting onto a referendum ballot and, ultimately, the campaign lost steam after the student graduated and moved elsewhere. Local city council member Timothy Male became interested in the idea of lowering the voting age in 2013 after having discussions with FairVote on how to increase voter turnout and participation. Youth were brought in to advocate for a bill drafted by Male, and took leadership in organizing and turning out for public hearings. By May,
City Council Chambers in Hyattsville on night of vote to lower the voting age. Source: Hyattsville Life & Times
only a few months after the idea was ﬁrst introduced, the city council approved in a 6-1 vote a change to the city’s charter which lowered the voting age for municipal elections to 16 years.
While having youth leadership and organizing on the campaign was critical, having the presence of community organizations as advocates and a city council member who championed the idea were also important. While having youth leadership and organizing on the campaign was critical, having the presence of community organizations as advocates and a city council member who championed the idea were also import-
ant. Additionally, the decision not to put the issue up to a referendum and instead relying on a vote by the city council greatly reduced the time, eﬀort, and resources necessary to lower the voting age. While in the past, changes to the voting law went through a referendum process, an argument was made in this instance regarding the questionable ethical and human rights standing of putting another individual’s right to vote up to a popular vote—one that held up both with the city council and the broader population of Takoma Park who largely supported the change. Additionally, it should be noted that cities in Maryland are given considerable independence in determining how local governments are to be established and how elections are to be run, though they also lack jurisdiction over many issues often left to localities such as school governance or zoning which are controlled at the state or county level. The movement started in Takoma Park would later encourage the neighboring city of Hyattsville to lower its voting age as well.
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Prince George’s County and Hyattsville highlighted in Maryland. Image source: Arkyan from Wikimedia
Hyattsville, MD Hyattsville is a city in the state of Maryland of about 18,000 residents with a mayor–council system of government, and is largely a suburban community within the greater Washington, DC metro area. It successfully lowered the voting age in 2015 to 16, following its neighboring town of Takoma Park. It is also one of a handful of jurisdictions within Maryland that have decided to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, as is the case in Takoma Park. In Hyattsville, the idea was ﬁrst raised in a panel discussion hosted by the Young Elected Oﬃcials Network, a non-partisan program of the People For the American Way Foundation which supports elected leaders under the age of 35. A speaker from FairVote brought up lowering the voting age as a means to strengthen democracy, and local city council member Patrick Paschall connected with FairVote and Generation Citizen, another non-proﬁt organization whose mission is to encourage engaged and eﬀective citizens through civics education for young people. Councilmember Paschall then introduced legislation and brought in youth voices who spoke out at a public hearing held on the issue. Youth participation was facilitated by the fact that 16 and 17 year-olds already have their voting registration collected through the county’s motor voter rules, and so a list was made available for canvassing. 12
While a few of the councilmembers were opposed to the idea based on their reasoning that 16 and 17 yearolds were not mature enough to vote, the legislation ultimately passed unanimously after the public hearing was held. Several community members and young people spoke at the hearing which had the eﬀect of disproving doubts by demonstrating that young people could speak out in an intelligent and thoughtful way on the issue. And, as the hearing demonstrated widespread community support, councilmembers did not want to vote against their constituents’ will even if they held personal doubts. News outlets including the local Hyattsville Times, along with the New York Times, and the Washington Post, were all present at the hearing and later reported on the issue. Otherwise, there was no concerted media strategy for the campaign, which typically resorted to more direct methods such as canvassing and discussions on a community email list. Ultimately, the most eﬀective messaging were arguments about the fact that many 16 and 17 year-olds work, pay taxes, and drive on local roads, so it would make sense for them to have a say in local issues which are more often than not about potholes than some of the more fraught issues which are raised at the national level.
It would be wrong to let one class of individuals vote on whether or not another class of individuals should be given the right to vote. Similar to the process in Takoma Park, champions of the legislation felt that putting the issue up to a referendum was inappropriate as it would be wrong to let one class of individuals vote on whether or not another class of individuals should be given the right to vote—as a moral issue, and as a legal issue. Further, the legal structure for cities in Maryland, once again, allow for city councils to have total jurisdiction over how local governments are to be organized and how elections are to take place. As in Takoma Park, this decision only aﬀected municipal elections, and was in many ways lim-
ited due to the fact that school board elections, zoning decisions, and many other matters which cities typically have jurisdiction over are in this case reserved for the state and county governments.
Washington, DC Washington, DC is a city of about 680,000 people which acts as the urban core to a greater metropolitan area of about six million people including Takoma Park and Hyattsville, and is also the capital of the United States. As such, its legal structure is unique and unusual: it is a federal district, independent of any state, and while it has an elected mayor and city council, it is also subject to the direct authority of Congress. Thus, any politically signiﬁcant changes made at the local level may spark the interest and intervention of Congress— this can be a signiﬁcant asset for pushing an issue to a wider audience, but also a big risk if the issue is one that might be frowned upon by the political party currently in power within the legislature. There is currently a campaign underway to lower the voting age in Washington, DC, initiated in 2015 after a community organizer noticed at a local forum event that when young people would try to speak, others would speak down to them in a patronizing and dismissive way. The organizer met with Alex Koroknay-Palicz of the NYRA who introduced the idea of lowering the voting age, and they went on to set up meetings with city council members. Councilmembers Charles Allen and David Grosso were enthusiastic about the idea and went on to write legislation which was co-sponsored by two additional members of the city council. The leg-
islation at ﬁrst only addressed local elections, but was expanded to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in federal elections as well, based on the belief that as a federal district, such legislation was lawful and not bound state laws as is common in most other areas.
The coalition was prepared to mobilize for a committee hearing where youth members of the public could speak out in favor of the issue, but the chair of the responsible committee did not bring the legislation up. Introduced in the fall of 2015, the NYRA assisted in assembling a coalition of community, academic, and political groups. The coalition trained young people to testify and lobby for the issue, set up a website and created a ﬂyer, and continued to communicate with the city council. The coalition was prepared to mobilize for a committee hearing where youth members of the public could speak out in favor of the issue, but the chair of the responsible committee (the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, in this case) did not bring the legislation up. There was not a known active motivation against the legislation, and such stalled legislation can be common if the responsible committee and its chair simply had other priorities demanding attention. The campaign remains hopeful for seeing movement on the legislation as Councilmember Allen is now chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.
Washington, DC highlighted in red. Image source: LokalProfil from Wikimedia
Berkeley is a city in California’s Bay Area with a population of about 115,000. It has a council–manager form of government, and is a charter city which gives it home rule under California law. It successfully passed
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but it didn’t receive a great deal of attention. The referendum overwhelmingly passed with 70% of the vote.
The political structure of Berkeley, with its strong associations, is such that a small, motivated group could eﬀectively pitch their idea to voters without a signiﬁcant amount of funding.
Berkeley and Alameda County in California highlighted in red. Image source: Ixnayonthetimmay from Wikimedia
a referendum in 2016 which allowed its city council to lower the voting age to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in Berkeley Uniﬁed School District Board of Education elections. Because the campaign focused on lowering the voting age for school board elections, its messaging emphasized that high school students ought to have a voice in their schools, an argument that is particularly salient in a city where a large portion of the voting-age population are newcomers who are part of the UC Berkeley campus. The campaign began with Josh Daniels, a Berkeley school board member, Kad Smith, a local activist and recent graduate of Berkeley High School, and about 10 local youth who were brainstorming youth empowerment strategies. They decided to focus their energy on lowering the voting age for school board elections, and Daniels, who had experience in election law, drafted a measure for the consideration of the city council. The youth directly lobbied the city council and school board, both of whom unanimously supported and agreed to put to a referendum ballot. There was no serious public opposition, and the group held town halls, forums sponsored by various political groups, spoke at meetings of unions and political parties, received endorsements, sent out digital mailers, and distributed ﬂyers in person at locations throughout the city. While they formed an oﬃcial committee and established fundraising accounts, they remained a relatively small, grassroots organization and never had the money to do direct mailers or pursue other similarly costly measures. There were a handful of articles in local media, 14
While the responsible parties determined in this case that a charter amendment was required to lower the voting age, thus necessitating a referendum ballot, the campaign only sought to lower the voting age for school board elections, limiting many of the knee-jerk reactions which are typical against lowering the voting age. Further, the political structure of Berkeley, with its strong associations, is such that a small, motivated group could eﬀectively pitch their idea to voters without a signiﬁcant amount of funding. The charter amendment which passed was worded to authorize the city council to lower the voting age for school board elections, and to work with the County Registrar of Voters to eﬀectively implement this lowering of the voting age—so while the referendum was successfully passed, this additional action must be taken by the city council in order to actually execute and implement lowering of the voting age.
San Francisco, CA The campaign in San Francisco is perhaps the most similar to a potential campaign in Long Beach for two reasons: it is a large, diverse city of several hundred thousand residents, and it shares a similar legal structure as a charter city in the state of California. It is the only city–county in California, with a merged government in which the county-level Board of Supervisors eﬀectively act as the city council, but this quirk has no practical eﬀect on eﬀorts to lower the voting age. The
Supporting the effort to lower the voting age in San Francisco, 2016. Photo: SF Youth Commission
city, with the population of about 850,000 also acts as the urban core to the Bay Area, a region with a metropolitan population of about 4.5 million. It underwent an intensive campaign to lower the voting age in 2016 which saw numerous successes but was ultimately unable to lower the voting age. The idea to lower the voting age was ﬁrst introduced by members of the San Francisco Youth Commission, an oﬃcial 17-member body of 12-23 year-olds who are appointed by the Mayor and Board of Supervisors and who advise them on youth-related issues. These youth leaders built informal support, began introducing the idea to stakeholders and to members of the Board of Supervisors, and brought in Generation Citizen as an advisor. After the idea gained traction, they created an independent group—the Youth Empowerment
Academy (YEA)—to focus on the issue speciﬁcally, they received a grant from the Irvine Foundation to support their work and hire a staﬀer, and they began to oﬃcially get endorsements for a charter amendment which was introduced by a Supervisor. They were able to receive unanimous support from the San Francisco Uniﬁed School District (SFUSD) Board of Education after organizing for about 100 high school students to show up and provide comments and a public hearing. They also had a similar turnout to a special public hearing held by the Board of Supervisors, where each Youth Commissioner sat with their respective Supervisor—and 9 out of 11 Supervisors came out in favor of the amendment. Additionally, throughout this period, and up until the conclusion of the campaign overall, they received numerous endorsements from nearly every kind of po-
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proceed. Nevertheless, the youth leaders organized, canvassed, phone banked, got onto slate mailer cards, targeted press, and used their many endorsements to get their ﬁnal vote on election night up to 48%, which is relatively astonishing given the limited resources and steep hill that the campaign had to climb.
Because the legislation was proposed as an amendment to the city charter, rather than as normal legislation which could be passed by the Board of Supervisors, it was required by California law to go to a referendum ballot. The City and County of San Francisco highlighted in red. Image source: Optigan13 from Wikimedia
litical ﬁgure in the city, from local oﬃcials, to state and federal legislative representatives. Because the legislation was proposed as an amendment to the city charter, rather than normal legislation which could be passed by the Board of Supervisors, it was required by California law to ﬁrst to be put on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors or by initiative, then to be voted on and passed with a simple majority in a referendum ballot. Therefore, while the YEA’s success with the Board of Supervisors ensured that it would be put on a referendum ballot, they had to develop a new campaign strategy targeted toward winning a majority of voters from the general public. After a serious investment into laying the groundwork of procedural ﬁlings and setting up ﬁnancial accounts, they enlisted the help of a local political consulting ﬁrm and were able to conduct some polling to test their messaging and what hurdles they had to overcome. Initial polls came back at 36% which was troubling, given that typical campaigns would want to see about a 60% approval to even
Ultimately the referendum failed, though the team saw their early successes with the Board of Education and the Board of Supervisors, along with their numerous endorsements, as signals to the viability of their idea. The entire process at minimum familiarized voters with the idea of lowering the voting age, and sets the stage for future eﬀorts in this regard. One area where the campaign lacked a strong strategy was with regard to media. Their goal was to get as much coverage as possible without too much targeting, though they suﬀered a setback after an unexpectedly sudden and negative op-ed was published immediately after the Board of Supervisors vote in the San Francisco Chronicle. There were also eﬀorts to reach out to ethnic media and to use social media, though these did not appear to have much of an eﬀect. Their polling suggested that their argument for lowering the voting age because it increases voter turnout landed well, while messaging about the rights of young people was not as successful—which is problematic due to the fact that the empirical evidence for increasing voter turnout is weak, and that the civic rights argument was key for getting the support of political leaders, as the cases of Takoma Park and Hyattsville demonstrated.
Like the eﬀorts elsewhere, having eloquent and engaged youth as the face of the campaign was seen as critical—and, in this case, the campaign originated organically from the Youth Commission, ensuring this to be the case. Most common sentiments against the idea of lowering the voting age include the sense that 16 and 17 year-olds are too immature to vote—often coming from both conservative and liberal voices, and often entirely unfounded—and having eloquent engaged youth speak out in public against this notion is the most eﬀective means to dispel it.
California: ACA-7 California is the most populous state in the US with around 40 million inhabitants, and it has a bicameral legislature with an 80-member Assembly and a 40-member Senate. Its constitution can be amended through initiative, or an amendment can be placed on a referendum ballot by a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the legislature. Assembly Constitutional Amendment, Number 7 (ACA-7), was proposed in the 2015–16 California Legislature to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in their local school and community college district governing boards but it did not pass the Assembly.
nication with the campaigns that were underway in San Francisco and Berkeley, and were also able to build a very large coalition of supporting stakeholders throughout the state such as unions and non-proﬁt organizations. Ultimately, however, the legislation died in the Elections Committee, where Chairperson Shirley Weber decided not to bring it to a vote. This campaign decided to focus on school-related elections as it appeared to make more sense and be a stronger argument for youth voting. While they may have solved a messaging and a political hurdle, they created a logistical problem: much of the argument against the legislation within the Assembly revolved around how it would be diﬃcult to create a special polling system for elections which determined who was 16 or 17 years old and allowed them to vote in school-related elections only. Also, some school boards in the state were concerned with their elections seeming like practice elections for young people. The media response was similarly tepid, with some coverage from traditional news sources and a very limited social media response. Because of the legislation being situated in the Sacramento-based Assembly, getting a large
While they may have solved a messaging and a political hurdle by focusing on school board elections, they created a logistical problem. ACA-7 was introduced by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher of San Diego who was struck by the fact that her daughter had no say in her high school governance and had to resort to protests and walk-outs in order to save her favorite teachers from being let go during the recession. Asm. Gonzalez was also a key supporter of the motor voter act passed in California, so she was familiar with eﬀorts to extend voting rights and encourage civic engagement through voting. They also interacted with Generation Citizen, had some commu-
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, left, joins student Albert Min, for the launch of the California Online Pre-Registration for 16 and 17 Year Olds at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 9, 2017. A recently passed law aimed at encouraging the youth vote allows for pre-registration but not outright voting. Source: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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San Francisco youth advocating for lowering of voting age in front of City Hall. Source: SF Youth Commission
youth presence to directly lobby was more diﬃcult than other eﬀorts which happened at the local level. Furthermore, because of California law, the process of getting an amendment on a referendum ballot through initiative may be easier than getting a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the legislature as only about 600,000 signatures of voters are needed (8% of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election).
blymember Evan Low of the Bay Area, the amendment would allow for 17 year-olds to vote in local, state, and federal elections. The campaign’s reasoning behind the design of the legislation is threefold: (1) it is a clear, simple, and straightforward change; (2) lowering the voting age to 17 is less of a political hurdle than 16, and it coincides with civics education for high schoolers; and (3) it is permissible under the US Constitution’s 26th Amendment.
The change doesn’t have the same logistical problems as only lowering the voting age for select elections, such as school-related elections, and only lowering the age by one year may be more palatable for California voters who must pass the amendment by a simple majority based on existing law. Also, the 26th Amendment
More recently, a new eﬀort has been launched to amend the California State Constitution within the Assembly to lower the voting age to 17 for all elections. Introduced in the 2017–18 session as Assembly Constitutional Amendment, Number 10 (ACA-10) by Assem-
to the US Constitution only expressly forbids denying the vote to anyone 18 or older—it does not prohibit granting the franchise to those younger than 18. Thus, based on the campaign’s analysis, this is permissible in the same way that many states had already lowered the voting age to 18 when the 26th Amendment went into eﬀect, lowering the voting age nationwide. This would give younger voters the ability to weigh in not only on school-related elections, but also on gubernatorial elections, presidential elections, national policy, and the like. But, perhaps most compelling, is Assemblymember Low’s own argument in favor of this amendment which is based on his personal history of teaching high school civics to 17 year-olds who nevertheless were unable to participate in what they were learning about, with this age being ideal for introducing an informed electorate to the process and experience of going to the ballot box.
ACA-10 would give younger voters the ability to weigh in not only on school-related and local elections, but also on gubernatorial elections, presidential elections, and state and national policy. While this campaign faces the same uphill battle of getting a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the California legislature, and subsequently a majority vote in a referendum ballot, they are aided by the fact that Assemblymember Low is currently the chair of the Elections Committee, ensuring that it, at minimum, will not die in committee. The campaign has plans to bring in youth voices throughout the process in the legislature, but it would have to establish a group independent of Assemblymember Low’s oﬃce for a statewide referendum campaign. There is already some news coverage, including a positive op-ed in the Los Angeles Times and a negative op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, which suggests
a relatively more favorable attitude toward the idea given the largely negative coverage by major news sources during the previous San Francisco campaign.
Conclusions on Case Studies These case studies demonstrate the importance of several interrelated factors to consider when considering how to pursue a campaign to lower the voting age. First, and most importantly, is the existing legal framework through which the voting age must be lowered. This framework informs all other aspects of the process, such as whether elected oﬃcials or a general electorate must be targeted, how a campaign timeline could be planned, and the nature of which elections ought to be addressed (i.e., local, state, or federal; school-related or general; etc.). Because of the distributed nature of governance in the United States, the constitutions of the city (often called a “city charter”) and the state, in addition to the US Constitution, must be considered in unpacking the legal framework for lowering the voting age in municipalities. Some states allow “home rule” for cities, enabling them the power to lower the voting age for local elections, such as in Maryland, while other states would require legislation or a state constitutional amendment at the state level.
California Assemblymember Evan Low (D–Campbell) who introduced ACA-10. Source: Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group
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The next factor to consider is the formation of the legislation to lower the voting age, itself. Is the goal to lower the voting age for all elections, or only school-related elections? Should the voting age be lowered to 16, to 17, or to some other age? What are the reasons for doing so? This factor has political implications: more limited eﬀorts to lower the voting age, such as lowering the voting age to 17 for school-related elections, would be easier to pass, but would have a far more limited impact. Conversely, lowering the voting age to 16 for all elections, including presidential elections, might be more diﬃcult to achieve politically, but would have a larger impact on the ability for youth to have a voice and be civically engaged. This is not an easy calculus, however: a limited change might be rejected as being too timid and having a negligible eﬀect, while a strongly argued case for lowering the voting age would only be eﬀective if the change was meaningful. In addition to politics, this factor also has practical and logistical implications: who is responsible for passing such legislation, and who would be responsible for implementing
such legislation? Are there existing frameworks in place for a voter registrar to allow younger people to vote, or would government agencies need to be reconﬁgured?
The most important factors to consider are the existing legal framework through which the voting age must be lowered, and the formation of the legislation to lower the voting age. The third factor is who is part of the campaign, and who is targeted? Based on the legal framework where the legislation exists, and how it is formed, the campaign may exist primarily as a coalition or collaboration with elected oﬃcials, such as city council members, who can pass the legislation outright. Or the campaign may need to go through a referendum process which requires an exponentially greater amount of time,
Young people speaking out on public record at a public hearing in front of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Source: SF Youth Commission
the issue and the instinctive reaction many voters have against lowering the voting age. A signiﬁcant amount of energy would need to be expended on shaping a narrative around the issue, educating voters, and conducting activities such as canvassing, organizing, and outreach to associations.
Members of the Youth Council of Richmond, CA recieve a presentation from the SF Youth Commission about the possibility of lowering the voting age in Richmond. Source: Richmond Confidential/Manjula Varghese
money, and eﬀort. Considering these two alternatives, the campaign might exist best as a collaboration between youth leaders and city oﬃcials, or best as a broad grassroots coalition. In both circumstances, having champions who support lowering the voting age are needed in the key positions of power relevant to the process, whether that is a city council member, a state legislator, a well-connected organizers, a wealthy donor, or a sympathetic media outlet.
Having champions in key positions of power, such as city council members, is important. The fourth factor is the campaign strategy. This is includes the plan for how to get your legislation passed, a messaging and media outreach strategy, and key milestones where signiﬁcant expenditure of some kind of resource is necessary. These milestones might range from a public hearing where a large youth turnout is needed to make public comment in city council chambers, or it might be some kind of press conference where your narrative on the issue can be solidiﬁed in media outlets, or it could be working toward passing a referendum through a general election. In all cases, a general election referendum is invariably the most signiﬁcant challenge to overcome, given the novelty of
In all cases, a general election referendum is invariably the most signiﬁcant challenge to overcome, given the novelty of the issue and the instinctive reaction many voters have against lowering the voting age. With regard to messaging, the issue is a philosophically complex one and so clear messaging must be directly linked to the speciﬁc eﬀort which is being undertaken. There are the broad philosophical arguments about voting as an issue of fundamental human rights within a democracy, and that youth ought to have a voice in their society. This argument is potentially the most powerful, yet also the most diﬃcult as it relates to fundamental values. There is no scientiﬁc means to identify the age at which a person becomes mature enough to vote—and, indeed, there have been eﬀorts to provide a partial vote for younger voters as a form of “training wheels” but this then raising larger questions about the process of how full humanhood is realized and enacted in our political sphere. These arguments are generally made more palatable through limiting the reach of a youth vote, such as only allowing for voting in school board elections. Empirical arguments about how lowering the voting age could encourage civic engagement and participation, and leads to long-term voting patterns later in life are generally seen as a strong case yet the empirical evidence is limited and mixed, opening these arguments up to debate not on the merits of the argument, but on the quality of the evidence.
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Practical arguments related to linking voting to the ways in which society has already placed responsibility on youth—such as 16 where individuals can drive, work, and pay taxes, or 17 when high school students take civics classes—are generally solid. One surprising argument against lowering the voting age surfaces in this category: concerns have been raised about this being another element which could lead to young people being tried and punished as adults in crimes. Ultimately, arguments against lowering the voting age most commonly fall into three categories: that young people are too immature to vote, that they will simply act as a proxy vote for their parents, and that they already have low turnout and wouldn’t care about gaining the franchise. The most eﬀective case against these arguments, as has been demonstrated in numerous case studies, is not a philosophical, empirical, or practical argument but, rather, an experiential one: elected oﬃcials and voters often change their mind in favor of the issue when they see eloquent, informed, and passionate young people speaking out in favor of the issue, dispelling concerns against it. It is likely that since the issue is so novel, that even though there is a gut-reaction against the idea initially, that minds can be changed relatively easily while it is still novel. In this regard, it is imperative to immediately shape the narrative around the issue at the outset as negative attitudes against the idea can become entrenched over time.
It should also be noted that these arguments hold up among both liberals and conservatives and that the idea should not be framed as a political or partisan issue. More often than not, the older a voter is, the more likely they are to be against the idea, and this corresponds with a greater degree of conservative sentiment against lowering the voting age, but the issue is still novel and has not been placed—favorably or unfavorably—within orthodoxy of either side. There has been a very limited case made that lowering the voting age is favored by Democrats because young people tend to vote more for Democrats and thus should be rejected as partisan opportunism, but this argument should be rejected. Young people are declining to aﬃliate with either party at record numbers, demonstrating ﬁrst that lowering the voting age likely would not have an impact on those strongly in support or against either party, and second that such action to encourage civic participation from young people is more important than ever as this is evidence toward the notion that young people are increasingly disenchanted with a political system that they perceive as not for them.
It is imperative to immediately shape the narrative around the issue at the outset as negative attitudes against the idea can become entrenched over time. One of the best ways to do so is to have eloquent and engaged youth leading the charge.
Legal Framework As the case studies have demonstrated, one of the most important components to consider in any eﬀort to lower the voting age is the legal framework in the respective area. In the United States, this includes federal, state, and local constitutions and laws. Local constitutions for cities vary state by state—in some states, they are deﬁned by state law, and in others, they are deﬁned in a city charter as in the case of Long Beach, CA. Generally, lowering the voting age falls in a legal gray area, so knowing how to navigate the legal framework, and pursuing a campaign which avoids unnecessary legal battles is critical. The legal framework will have implications for: •
who is eligible or ineligible to vote;
who is responsible for running elections, and how they are to be run;
how to change election rules and voter eligibility;
the geography of elections and election rules;
and the relationship between federal, state, and local laws.
Relevant sections of local, state, and federal law have been identiﬁed and reviewed with regard to relevance for lowering the voting age. Local law has been examined in the context of Long Beach, California as a case study on the implications for local law.
One of the most important components to consider is the legal framework in the respective area. In the US, this includes federal, state, and local constitutions and laws.
City Charter Long Beach’s City Charter is relatively standard with regard to elections in comparison with other charter cities in the state of California. It speciﬁes standard election timing and procedures in a brief fashion, and notes in Sec. 1910 that, “Unless otherwise provided by this Charter or ordinance adopted by the City Council, all municipal elections shall be held in accordance with the provisions of the Elections Code of the State of California governing municipal elections.” In this case, it is the California Elections Code and the California Constitution which both deﬁne voting age at 18. It is possible for Long Beach to go the route of San Francisco and Berkeley, and have a charter amendment put to a referendum ballot either by the city council or through an initiative process. However, Sec. 1910 appears to already allow for an ordinance adopted by the City Council to modify local voting procedures, bypassing the amendment process for the city charter and avoiding a referendum.
Long Beach City Charter Sec. 1910 appears to allow for an ordinance adopted by the City Council to modify local voting procedures, bypassing the amendment process for the city charter and avoiding a referendum. It should also be noted that Long Beach includes in its city charter the establishment of Long Beach Uniﬁed School District, and its governance and election procedures. Similar to general election procedures, Sec.
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2206 notes, “All elections for members of the Board of Education, or issuing bonds of the school districts, or on propositions to be submitted to the people of the school districts, shall be called, held, conducted and the vote canvassed and declared in accordance with the provisions of the Elections Code of the State of California governing municipal elections except as otherwise provided by this Charter.” Therefore, it stands to reason that any city ordinance passed which alters the voter eligibility for local elections could modify both municipal and school district elections.
Municipal Code The Long Beach Municipal Code establishes more speciﬁc rules about the logistics of how elections are to be run. It is important to note that the Municipal Code can be modiﬁed by a simple majority of the city council, and that the City Charter appears to allow for such an ordinance to modify election procedures. No ordinance could go against that which is expressly indicated by higher law, such as that found in the California or US Constitution, but Long Beach enjoys home rule permitted under California law as a charter city, and there are no laws which expressly prohibit lowering the voting age—only laws against prohibiting those 18 of years of age and older from voting. Another key element to note is that Long Beach is a city which relies on a City Clerk appointed by the Mayor to run local elections, rather than a County Registrar. This has no bearing on the legal issues surrounding lowering the voting age, but it is a useful element when considering the practical logistics of allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to vote. The city already has a dual ballot process where polling locations have a local ballot and a ballot for all other elections, so it would be relatively easy to simply modify the local ballot to allow for 16 and 17 year-olds to vote, while leaving the other ballot for state and federal elections untouched. The city has recently tested consolidating its elections with the County of Los Angeles, though theoretically even if this were to occur, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder already manages a multitude of elections and ballots
in numerous languages, cities, special districts, and the like, so ﬁguring out these logistics is not insurmountable.
California State Constitution and Election Code Article II, Section 2 of the California Constitution states, “A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” Division 2, Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 2000 of the California Election Code states, “(a) Every person who qualiﬁes under Section 2 of Article II of the California Constitution and who complies with this code governing the registration of electors may vote at any election held within the territory within which he or she resides and the election is held. (b) Any person who will be at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election is eligible to register and vote at that election. (c) Pursuant to Section 2102, any person who is at least 16 years of age and otherwise meets all eligibility requirements to vote is eligible to preregister to vote, but is not eligible to vote until he or she is 18 years of age.”
“A United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.” — California Constitution This clearly lays out voter qualiﬁcations for state and federal elections at 18 years of age. The California Constitution expressly allows those 18 years of age and older, though it does not expressly prohibit those under 18 from voting, and the Election Code references this qualiﬁcation. It is likely that the California Constitution would need to be amended through a referendum ballot established either through a two-thirds vote by both chambers of the California legislature, or through an initiative process to lower the voting age for state and federal elections. However, if the Constitution is generously interpreted as not necessarily prohibiting those younger than 18 years of age from voting, it could
be possible for the qualiﬁcations to be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds through a typical legislative process of modifying the Election Code. This would likely be put to the courts if passed to conﬁrm or reject its constitutionality.
Berkeley’s vote to lower the voting age should be closely followed in this regard as it may be subject to constitutional review. The California Constitution and the California Election Code both refer generally to elections without specifying whether they are local, state, or federal. Generally, it has been assumed that they refer to state and federal elections, and the Election Code also applies to general-law cities. Therefore, it has also been assumed that charter cities may modify their local elections to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote based on the laws that have been established either through charter or ordinance in the charter city. This, however, could plausibly also be put up to a constitutional test—and Berkeley should be closely followed in this regard as it is the ﬁrst California city to lower its voting age, even if it is only for school-related elections.
State-City Relationship Article XI, Section 3 of the California Constitution states, “For its own government, a county or city may adopt a charter by majority vote of its electors voting on the question. The charter is eﬀective when ﬁled with the Secretary of State. A charter may be amended, revised, or repealed in the same manner. A charter, amendment, revision, or repeal thereof shall be published in the oﬃcial state statutes. County charters adopted pursuant to this section shall supersede any existing charter and all laws inconsistent therewith. The provisions of a charter are the law of the State and have the force and eﬀect of legislative enactments.” In other words, for those cities governed by a charter, they
Map of states with home rule statues for cities. Source: Vox/Zachary Crockett
eﬀectively have home rule as the city charter has the same force as state law. Cities which lack a charter in California are referred to as “general-law cities” and are structured by statues established within state law—these cities would require a modiﬁcation to state law, though not necessarily a constitutional amendment, to lower the voting age. According to Generation Citizen, some 12 other states and the District of Columbia have a form similar to California charter city home rule for cities, wherein they can lower the voting age for local elections independent of state action. Cities in the remaining 37 states would require some form of state action to lower the voting age as cities in the remaining states are seen not as independent jurisdictions with home rule but, rather, purely a creature of the state. In the case of Long Beach, its charter expressly permits ordinances enacted by its city council to modify local election proceedings.
US Constitution and Federal Law Generally, voting qualiﬁcations and procedures are established by state governments rather than at the federal level, although numerous laws have nevertheless been established at the federal level with regard to voting, such as laws to ensure that various forms
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of discrimination are prohibited. The US Code is extraordinarily complex and a qualiﬁed legal advisor is recommended to delve further into such laws. The US Constitution, however, establishes clear rules that must be followed by all law in the nation, whether it is at the federal, state, or local level. The franchise has grown over time, initially being established by states typically as white, landowning males, which grew to white males age 21 and older, to males of all races age 21 and older, to all individuals 21 and older regardless of sex, to all individuals 18 and older. The most recent revision to constitutional rules regarding voter qualiﬁcations was in the 26th Amendment which was passed in 1971 to ensure that 18, 19, and 20 year-olds who were often drafted into the military had a say in the government through elections. It states, “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” While this expressly permits all citizens of age 18 and over to vote in all elections, it does not expressly prohibit states or other localities such as cities from extending the right to vote to those who are not citizens, or those who are younger than 18. Many cities have successfully lowered the voting age and extended voting rights to non-citizens for local elections—and similar action is theoretically possible at the state level as well.
Conclusions on Legal Framework The legal framework through which any eﬀort to lower the voting age is passed is often very confusing given the complex system local, state, and federal government in the United States. Nevertheless, the legal framework is a critical and deﬁning element to under-
stand and work through in such eﬀorts as it has implications for how the voting age is to be lowered, what is legal or feasible, and how campaigns are ultimately structured. Additionally, it has implications for whether or not, and how a successful eﬀort to lower the voting age will hold up over time, given the constitutional review that state and federal judiciaries exercise. Ideally, the path of least resistance ought to be chartered through the various legal processes for changing voter qualiﬁcations in the area of focus—the local and state laws and constitutions, whether state or local laws must be changed, whether a referendum is needed, etc. In the case of Long Beach, a charter city in the State of California, it enjoys home rule and should be allowed to lower its voting age for local elections without interference from the state or federal government. Eﬀorts to lower the voting age for state or federal elections, however, would require action beyond the capacity of the city. Furthermore, while changes to voter qualiﬁcations often require amendments to a city charter, necessitating a referendum under California law, it appears that Long Beach already has a mechanism built into its charter for lowering the voting age. Since the existing charter notes that the city council may change local voting laws through ordinance, it is possible for the city council to modify voter qualiﬁcations with a simple majority as long as these modiﬁcations do not conﬂict with state or federal law. Based on the action taken by Berkeley, another charter city in California, it appears that state and federal law only prohibit voter qualiﬁcations which are more stringent than “all citizens of age 18 years and older.” Federal law most certainly, and likely also California state law do not prohibit extending the franchise to voters who are non-citizens and to those who are younger than the age of 18.
Young people voting in an election. Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Lowering the voting age to 16 is an important goal in enfranchising all groups in America. However, as our analysis has shown, there are many obstacles to achieving this goal. A look at the laws surrounding voting age in Long Beach and California showed that lowering the voting age could be accomplished through the action of the city council. One key takeaways include the importance of the legal framework and makeup of the legislation intended to lower the voting age. Does a city have home rule? Is the voting age being lowered for school board elections, or all elections? We outlined several of the diďŹƒculties and successes of places that have attempted to accomplish this goal. With regard to the organization of campaigns to lower the voting age, these are largely dependent on the legal framework and nature of the legislation to lower the voting age. After these factors are considered, another key takeaway is the importance of securing champions who are in key places of power, whether these are
city council members, school board members, or state legislators. Arguments commonly used by both communities and the media were considered using previous empirical and human rights perspectives. An analysis of the role of both social and traditional media in framing these campaigns showed that the issue has largely been framed in the media in terms of maturity, partisanship, and empirical ďŹ ndings from other countries. Another key takeaway is the importance of framing the issue early on, and to have eloquent, engaged youth voices at the forefront, dispelling prejudices against young voters. Nevertheless, because of these prejudices, and because of the fundamental human rights nature of enfranchisement, referenda on lowering the voting age ought to be avoided if possible. Ultimately, lowering the voting age to 16 may not be easy, but we believe that it is feasible, especially at the local level for home rule cities, and moreover, it is a worthwhile endeavor.
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