Youth Deserve the Right to Vote By RIO BAUCE Commentary

Friday May 20, 2005

On May 2, the City of Berkeley Youth Commission voted 10-1-1 to approve a two-part proposal, recommending that the Berkeley City Council support state legislation to allow local choice in setting a voting age of 16 years or older and send the previously proposed ballot initiative back to the Youth Commission for them to hold a public hearing on the details of an amendment in Berkeley regarding lowering the voting age to 16, if and when the state permits such an action. 

The proposal put forth at Monday's meeting was drafted by members of the Berkeley High School Chapter of the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA-Berkeley). The National Youth Rights Association is an organization advocating for youth empowerment. This includes, but is not limited to lowering the voting age, lowering the drinking age, and eliminating the curfew.  

In March of 2004, a bill was introduced into the California State Senate by former State Senator John Vasconcellos (D-Silicon Valley) called SCA 19. This bill was originally intended to allow 14 and 15 year olds one-quarter of a vote and 16 and 17 year olds one-half of a vote. After passing two committees, it was amended to allow people 16 years of age and older to have a full vote. John Vasconcellos abandoned the bill after he discovered that he was short one vote to pass the last committee. If passed by the third committee, the bill would have gone to the floor of the Senate for approval. 

The voting age needs to be lowered for many reasons. One that resonates with many is that American teenagers contribute an estimated $9.7 billion per year in sales taxes alone to the economy, as well as millions of dollars a year in income taxes. However these youth who pay taxes have no say in how their own tax dollars are spent. Does this remind you of taxation without representation? 

Juveniles can be tried as adults in the criminal justice system. How can society treat youth as adults in terms of criminal punishment, but not let them act as an adult in society by giving them the right to vote? This is a double standard—youth can be given the same punishment as an adult in the court systems, but are severed from their personal beliefs when they wish to vote. 

Many conclude that youth are not educated enough to make informed decisions. This standard might be valid if it was applied to everyone. Senile people are not stripped of the right to vote. Nor are alcoholics, neurotics, or psychotics who live outside of hospitals robbed of the right to vote. Many youth are ready to vote in this day and age.  

Some have said that youth would vote just as their parents do. This is not necessarily true. Youth are just as influenced by people around them as adults are. It makes sense that people who you care about and care about you will tell you what they think about issues. Ultimately, though, it is one’s own decision as to what they vote on. 

If youth were given the right to vote, voter turnout would increase greatly because many new voters would register. Additionally, surveys have shown that youth increase their parent’s likelihood to vote. A program called Kids Voting USA started in the mid to late 1990s allowed children to vote in the actual polling stations where their parents voted. The study showed that 5-10 percent of adults who voted indicated that Kids Voting USA was a strong factor in their decision to vote. Not only will youth voting increase the number of voters, it also will encourage young people to get involved in politics early on, which can contribute to a lifetime interest in voting. 

We have made appointments with nearly every councilmember to discuss our proposed legislation. We also have meetings set up with Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-San Mateo), and the Alameda County Field Representative for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California). We are awaiting approval for an appointment with Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). 

For more information, please visit NYRA’s website at www.youthrights.org or visit NYRA-Berkeley’s website at http://berkeley.youthrights.org. 

This recommendation will be presented to the Berkeley City Council at their Tuesday, May 24 meeting (pending approval from the Agenda Committee) on 1234 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in the City Council Chambers at 7 p.m. I encourage you all to come support us and speak at the meeting. If nothing else, you can watch the council meeting on Berkeley TV Cable 33. 


Berkeley High School student Rio Bauce is a member of the City of Berkeley Youth Commission and treasurer of NYRA-Berkeley.