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Signs point to SF ballot measure that could extend voting rights to late teens

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee Monday unanimously approved a city charter amendment aims to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in municipal elections.

First introduced by board President Norman Yee, the charter amendment now heads to a full board vote that will determine if the measure will make it to the November ballot. Six votes are required to include the  amendment one the ballot — eight supervisors are already sponsoring.

A similar ballot measure appeared in the November 2016 election and lost with 52.1 percent of voters rejecting the measure. November will be the second attempt at the ballot box if the board approves it this time around. 

Noting that municipal decisions often heavily impact people under the age of 18, Yee said:

“Sixteen and 17-year-olds go to school, but they don’t have a say in the decisions we make about their education system.”

Eye of Kiltron/Flickr Sixteen and 17-year-olds could be extended the right to vote in municipal elections if the San Francisco Board of Supervisors moves to include a ballot measure and voters pass the bill in the November 2020 election. Pictured: George Washington High School in the Richmond District of San Francisco, Calif.

He added late teens can be tried in courts as adults for some crimes, but do not have a say on ballot measures related to the criminal justice system. 

Yee said:

“They deserve to have a say.”

Sarah Cheung, who sits on the San Francisco Youth Commission representing District 1, agreed with Yee that 16- and 17-year-olds are ready to vote because many already pay taxes and serve their communities. 

Cheung said lot of city policy decisions affect youth and they should have a say in making those choices.

She said:

“They use public services like public transportation and utilize spaces like public parks, and especially under COVID-19, their education has been affected.”

Sarah Ginsburg, a mayoral appointee to the Youth Commission, said it is important that 16- and 17-year-olds be allowed to vote from an equity lens.

Data from the commission showed that youth in The City between the ages of 16 and 17 are mostly of people of color. Thirty-nine percent are Asian American, 23 percent are Hispanic or Latinx and 9 percent are African American or Black.

Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay Protest organizer Simone Jaques, 17, starts the demonstration with a speech at Mission High School during the George Floyd solidarity protest in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, June 3, 2020. The protest was youth-led (Aaron Levy-Wolins/SFBay).

Ginsburg said:

“By excluding youth of color from the voting process, the electorate is really only catering to the older, white voters.”

Supervisor Catherine Stefani said she has been inspired by the youth, citing recent demonstrations led by young people to fight climate change and gun violence, and recently in the wake George Floyd’s death.

Stefani said:

“I just want to thank everyone, all the youth, you do inspire me. You give me hope.”

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