Seventeen-year-olds can drive, work as baristas and mock their peers on social media. But do we really want them weighing in on the next president of the United States?
State Assemblyman Evan Low does. Today he unveiled a bill that would start the process of lowering California's voting age from 18 to 17. A spokeswoman for the Silicon Valley Democrat argued that the legislation, if successful, would allow the teens to vote even in federal elections.
The 26th Amendment prohibits states from setting a voting age above 18, but it doesn't prevent a younger voting age, according to Low's office. However, David A. Carrillo, executive director of the California Constitution Center at UC Berkeley's School of Law, says 17-year-olds would not be able to vote in national elections.
"The 17-year-old voting age will only apply to state and local elections," he said via email. "The 26th Amendment only precludes denial by states of the right of citizens who are 18 years of age or older to vote."
The bill would require approval from two-thirds of the Legislature, as well as the approval of California voters — so it could be a long haul.
"Young people are our future," Low said in a statement. "Lowering the voting age will help give them a voice in the democratic process and instill a lifelong habit of voting."
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The lawmaker said he was inspired to write the bill after low turnout during the 2014 general election, when only 3.9 percent of those who voted were between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the UC Davis Center for Regional Change's California Civic Engagement Project.
Low argues that 18-year-olds don't get into the habit of registering to vote because young people are at their most transient stage — heading off to college, moving away from home. "Lowering the voting age to 17 years old will catch youth at a time when they are still connected to their school, their home and their community," according to a fact sheet on the bill.
Research shows that voters who start voting early tend to make going to the polls a lifelong habit, according to Low's office. California is one of 11 states that allows 16-year-olds to "preregister" to vote, but they still can't actually vote until they're 18. Twenty-two states and Washington, D.C., allow 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the general election to vote in primary elections or caucuses. And a few small cities have allowed 16-year-olds to vote in local elections, according to the lawmaker.