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San Francisco may allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. The City by the Bay will let residents decide on the new proposition in the November election. Think about how you and your friends were at 16, and decide if this is a prudent decision.
If the proposition passes in November, San Francisco would become the first major American city to enable residents aged 16 and 17 suffrage in municipal elections. There are smaller cities across the country that allow younger teens to vote in local elections, including Takoma Park in Maryland, that in 2013 gave voting rights to 16-year-olds.
San Francisco presented a similar proposal in the 2016 election, but it narrowly failed to get enough votes to pass. The “Youth Voting in Local Elections” measure was denied after 52.1% of people voting against the proposition.
“I really think that Vote 16 will help youth of color in San Francisco establish the habit of voting at an earlier age, and really provide them with the support and the resources that they need to continue building on that habit as they grow older,” Crystal Chan, an 18-year-old organizer for Vote 16 SF, told NBC News.
“Lowering the voting age can lead to a long-term increase in voter turnout, bringing more citizens in touch with their government and pushing the government to better serve its people,” the Vote 16 SF website reads.
The site claims that factors such as “civic knowledge, political skills, and political interest” don’t increase from age 16 to 18. The website also alleges that the teens are “affected by local political issues as much as anyone.”
“Strong civics education and a lower voting age would mutually reinforce each other to increase civic engagement,” the site alleges.
Nate Hochman, a Republican activist and senior at Colorado College, is against allowing the young teens voting because they don’t have experience in knowing “what good governance looks like.”
“Sixteen-year-olds — they’re sophomores, juniors in high school like they’re deeply impressionable. They’re largely interested in learning what, you know, their friends are doing and appearing to be cool. And they’re not capable of making completely rational decisions about voting,” Hochman said. “When are you an adult? When do we trust you to make your own decisions about who you are in the world and making your own way?”
Many neuroscientists and child psychologists agree that the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, isn’t fully developed until approximately age 25.
“So the changes that happen between 18 and 25 are a continuation of the process that starts around puberty, and 18 year olds are about halfway through that process,” neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt said. “Their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.”
“Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences,” the University of Rochester Medical Center states. “Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.”
“In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate,” according to the university. “That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.”
In March of 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that she was in favor of the voting age being lowered to 16.
“I, myself, personally, I’m not speaking for my caucus, I myself have always been for lowering the voting age to 16,” Pelosi said. “I think it’s really important to capture the kids when they’re in high school, when they’re interested in all of this when they’re learning about government, to be able to vote.”
A week before Pelosi made her comments, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced an amendment to H.R. 1 — the For the People Act— to lower the federal voting age to 16. The bill only received 126 votes, failing to receive a simple majority that would have allowed it to go to the Senate.
In February 2019, Oregon state Sen. Shemia Fagan (D) proposed legislation to lower the state’s voting age from 18 to 16. The proposal did not pass.