Vote 16SF History

In January 2015, the San Francisco Youth Commission kicked off the Vote16 movement by passing a resolution calling for 16- and 17-year-old voting in municipal elections, a reform that has been shown to increase voter turnout in the long run. After earning support from the Board of Education and the majority of the Board of Supervisors, the nation’s first ever ballot measure to extend voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds for municipal elections in a major city appeared on San Francisco’s ballot in November 2016. It earned more than 172,000 votes to finish at 48%, just shy of the 50% threshold needed to pass.

The trailblazing campaign shared the message that extending voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is about increasing voter turnout and civic engagement in the long term, as voting is habitual and 16 is a better time than 18 to establish such an important habit.

Vote16SF youth leaders never stopped working, and this year the campaign is back as Proposition G.

Proposition G was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, and we are proud to have the support of many leading organizations and elected officials.

Join us and Vote Yes on G in 2020.

Research

Research on 16 and 17 year old voting

The 2020 White Paper "Young Voices at the Ballot Box" provides a comprehensive overview of research on the policy idea, including research on voting as a habit and long-term increases in turnout that come from voting at 16, and the effects of voting at 16 in cities and countries that have already implemented the policy.

 

“In Defense of Lowering the Voting Age,” an essay in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, reviews the research on the policy idea.

“American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds Are Ready to Vote” highlights the legal notion of citizenship, and the neurological and social maturity of 16- and 17-year olds.

“What happens when the voting age is lowered to 16? A decade of evidence from Austria” summarizes a chapter in the book Lowering the Voting Age to 16 Learning from Real Experiences Worldwide on the evidence from other countries that use a voting age of 16.

“Voting at 16: Turnout and the quality of vote choice,” an Austrian study, shows 16- and 17-year-olds voted just as responsibly as older voters.

“Leaving the Nest and the Social Act of Voting: Turnout among First-Time Voters,” a study shows that turnout is higher among those who can vote at a younger age, indicating 16 is a better time than 18 to establish the voting habit.

The Right to Vote Under Local Law,” in the GW Law Review, demonstrates the ability of cities to strengthen democracy through changes to local election processes.

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FAQs

QUESTION: WHY SHOULD 16-AND 17-YEAR-OLDS BE ALLOWED TO VOTE IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS?

  • San Francisco has an aging electorate and has increasingly been losing families over the last two decades. We need young people to be directly engaged in crafting solutions for our city. Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds will be a positive investment in their civic and political development as lifelong voters and engaged citizens. Our democracy is stronger when more people are at the table!

  • Research shows that voting is a habit, and 16 is a better time than 18 to establish that habit. By starting voting at 16, for just municipal elections, we can make sure young people make voting a habit and continue to participate in our democracy as lifelong voters.

  • Sixteen and 17-year-olds can work without limitations on hours, pay taxes on their income, drive cars, and be tried in adult courts in some cases. They use public services and are affected by government decisions, and deserve a say in how government is run.

QUESTION: HOW WILL PROP G STRENGTHEN OUR DEMOCRACY?

Extending voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds is an important investment in their civic and political development. Extending voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds will mean more people can cast their first vote in a community where they have roots, are enrolled in school, where their parents are voters, and where they may be more interested in voting than those just two years older. And once they vote, they are likely to keep voting! By allowing citizens to cast their first vote at 16 or 17, we can increase voter turnout in both the short- and long-term.

Research shows that:

  • Voting is habitual. Once someone casts their first vote, they will continue voting. [1]

  • The earlier someone starts voting, the more likely they are to be a lifelong voter. [2]

  • When given the chance to vote, 16- and 17-year-olds register and turn out at greater rates than older voters. This has been seen in other countries that use this voting age (Norway, Germany, Argentina, Scotland, Argentina, Brazil, and Austria). It has also proven true in Takoma Park, MD, where 16- and 17-year-olds had a four times greater turnout rate than older voters. [3]

  • Many young people encounter major transitions at age 18, which can make it a challenging year to establish new voting habits. As a result, voter turnout among eligible voters under 30 is lower than any other group.

QUESTION: ARE 16- AND 17-YEAR-OLDS READY TO VOTE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS?

16 and 17 year olds are ready and eager to vote for their future. The high school classroom is the perfect place to engage and inform young people on local municipal issues. Expanding the vote to 16 and 17 year olds will be an opportunity to promote an even deeper engagement with the outstanding civics curriculum in our schools.

Research shows that:

  • 16-year-olds’ political knowledge is about the same as 21-year-olds’ and quite close to the average for all adults.[4]

  • Voting involves a decision making process known as “cold cognition,” where 16- and 17-year-olds are just as developed as older individuals. [5]

QUESTION: WILL 16- AND 17-YEAR-OLDS VOTE LIKE THEIR PARENTS?

16- and 17-year-olds are experts on their own experiences and will vote for their own futures. The dialogue that families will engage in if 16-17 year olds vote will lead to a more informed and engaged electorate overall.

 

Research shows that:

  • When given the right to vote, in many cases 16- and 17-year olds vote independently from their parents. In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, 44% of 16- and 17-year-olds voted differently than their parents. [6]

  • There is a “trickle up” effect when young people are eligible to vote while still living with family members. Conversations about politics and civic life are brought home, and there is a positive effect on voter turnout for parents and family members of all ages. [7]

QUESTION: JUST “MUNICIPAL” ELECTIONS? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Proposition G would allow 16- and 17-year-old citizens to vote only in municipal elections in San Francisco. That means local elections, like for Mayor, Board of Education, Board of Supervisors, Community College Board of Trustees, and local ballot measures. Not for state or federal elections.

Citations


[1] Eric Plutzer, “Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth,” The American Political Science Review 96/1 (March 2002), pp. 41-56.

[2] Bhatti, Yosef, and Kasper Hansen. "Leaving the Nest and the Social Act of Voting: Turnout among First-Time Voters." Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 22, no. 4 (2012).

[3] J.B. Wogan, “ Takoma Park sees high turnout among teens after election reform,” Governing Magazine, Nov. 7, 2013

[4] Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins, "American Sixteen- and Seventeen-Year-Olds are Ready to Vote," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 63 (January 2011), pp. 201-221.

[5] Laurence Steinberg, “Why We Should Lower the Voting Age,” The New York Times, March 2, 2018.

[6] The Electoral Commission Lothian Chambers, 59--63 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1RN. (2014). The 2014 Scottish Independence Voting Guide

[7] Dahlgaard, J. (2018). Trickle-Up Political Socialization: The Causal Effect on Turnout of Parenting a Newly Enfranchised Voter. American Political Science Review, 112(3), 698-705.

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Ad paid for by Vote16SF, Yes on G, sponsored by community organizations. Major committee funding by Tenants and Owners Development Corporation and its affiliated entity Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium LLC ($106,064). FPPC #1430352. Financial disclosures are available at SFEthics.org.