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Could lowering California's voting age to 17 equal better voter engagement?




Senior Emily Cisneros, left, helps get students registered to vote during a voter drive at North Hollywood High School on Thursday, April 30, 2015. Cisneros turned 18 in March and immediately registered to vote.
Senior Emily Cisneros, left, helps get students registered to vote during a voter drive at North Hollywood High School on Thursday, April 30, 2015. Cisneros turned 18 in March and immediately registered to vote.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Turnout for the March 7 election in Los Angeles was low. Really low. Less than 13% of voters actually cast a ballot, according to the latest count. 

Lawmakers and voter engagement advocates continue looking at a handful of innovations to boost numbers at the polls. Already in the works: establishing more easily accessible voting centers, automatic voter registration through the DMV, and moving local election years to match up with state and federal elections.  

Now, there's another proposal: lower the voting age in California to 17 years old.

The intention is aligned with a bill last season that didn't make it through the legislature, making the argument that if young voters are engaged concurrent with their high school government classes, and while they're still in the stability of their families' homes, they're more likely to be consistent voters later on. 

This time around, though, instead of a bill, the idea has taken the form of an amendment to the state constitution known as ACA-10. If approved by two-thirds of the legislature, it would appear as a ballot measure for voters to decide in 2018. If approved by voters, 17-year-olds would be allowed to vote in federal elections as well, despite the national threshold age of 18.  "We really need bold ideas to reinvigorate our democracy," the amendment's author, Assembly member Evan Low, said in an interview with Take Two. 

Low, a former teacher, argues that education is a key component. "When we have 17-year-olds captured in the classroom, we can engage with them in a relevant way where they feel like they can participate, and instill a lifelong habit of voting," Low said. "So, it's also about this civics component. About how we ensure that understanding beyond just a theoretical understanding of government, that they have a role to play."

When pressed if 17-year-olds can handle the responsibility of voting, Low and his supporters contend that the age group is underestimated. "As a millennial, I think oftentimes ... younger generations get a bad rap that they are not participating or evolved," Low said. The proposal is also supported by the legislative caucus "Millennial Action Project," a bipartisan organization.

Low is also advocating to make Election Day a state holiday. He says lowering the voting age is "just one arrow in the quiver to encourage more participation."

"I think kids our age are old enough to vote," said Gabrielino High School student Ethan Tan. "I think we have enough information in our classes that gives us enough information to fill out a ballot." Tan said that with all that students are learning in school, youths his age may actually be "more educated" on the issues than other voters. 

Tan's fellow debate-team member, Michael Hong, disagrees with having a lower voting age. Although he would exercise the right to vote if he had it, he's concerned with the overall maturity of his age group. "At least anecdotally, people my age tend to be more impulsive than making decisions off of rational behavior," Hong said. "As a result, I think that would heavily influence elections in one way or another."

California, 21 other states and the District of Columbia currently allow voting at 17 in primaries if the voter will be 18 by the date of their respective general election. 

To hear the full interview, click on the blue media player above.