Opinion: Proposition 18 gives a voice to young people

Lucy Sullivan, Staff Writer

Art by Grace Tseng

Voter turnout amongst younger generations in the United States has historically been low, which is reason for great concern. The outcome of matters currently being voted upon will greatly affect those who must live with them the longest. For that reason, young voters should have an opportunity to get involved early and be part of the full election cycle.

In the 2016 general election, only 46.1% of eligible 18-29 year-olds voted, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. This was by far the lowest percentage of the age demographics, with 58.7% of 30-44 year-olds, 66.6% of 45-64 year-olds, and 70.9% of citizens 65 and up voting. 

Proposition 18, featured on the California ballot this year, is designed to combat low youth voter turnout, and provide greater representation for young voters. This proposition would allow people who are 17 to vote in primary and special elections if they will be 18 come that year’s general election. Not only would this provide a more accurate representation of who youth want to see shaping their future, but being part of a full election cycle could also fuel more interest in voting. 

A common argument against Prop 18 is that 17-year-olds are still minors, and thus are heavily influenced by their parents and teachers. This may be true, but everyone is influenced by the beliefs of those around them, Whether it is a spouse, boss, or social media. A 17-year-old is no more likely to be influenced by their parent’s belief than someone a few months older, and voting in the primaries gives young people another opportunity to learn about politics, and form their own opinions. Critics say that minors do not have a great enough understanding of certain topics, like economics, causing them to vote rashly. According to Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, “[m]any tax increases and bond debt measures are decided on primary and special election ballots. That’s why only adults should vote.” 

No one is an expert on everything that they vote on, adult or not, but having an opportunity to vote in a primary and research such topics is a great place to start learning, as these are topics that people need to know about as they leave high school and enter the adult world. Seventeen-year-olds are just as capable of educating themselves on candidates and propositions as adults are, and everyone affected by Prop 18 would be voting on the same matters in the general election anyway. Inexperienced voters will always be a part of the process, but it is better for them to take the time to learn about important topics during the primaries, in addition to the general election. 

Voting is not only a right, but a responsibility. Some young people have a different vision for America than those in older generations, and voting is the way to make those ideas come to  fruition. Eligible to vote or not, many high-schoolers are interested in social change, taking actions like signing petitions and speaking out on social media. With an active and eager younger generation, the future of voting is hopeful, and having the opportunity to be involved in the primaries will only further their interest in politics.

If a 17-year-old is given the opportunity to support a candidate starting in the primaries, they are more likely to have someone to vote for in the general election who represents their beliefs. Primary elections are opportunities to learn about different policies and ideals held by candidates in either party. When voters are involved in the primaries, it allows them to form specific opinions about politics by giving them the opportunity to examine a variety of options, as opposed to the general election, where some vote solely based on party without putting much thought in to the specifics of a candidate’s policy

California is behind the curve on allowing eligible 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, with 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, already having something like Prop 18 in place. This effort to get young people involved in voting has proved successful in the areas in which it has been implemented. In Colorado, 9,942 17-year-olds voted in their primaries during March of this year, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. In the past, 17-year-olds have even voted at higher rates than those in older age groups, as seen in Chicago during the 2014 midterm primaries. Seventeen-year-old women voted at a higher rate than all other female ages until 54-year-olds, and 17-year-old men voted at a higher rate than all older male ages until 48-year-olds, according to the Chicago Tribune

Someone who is voting in the general election should have the opportunity to be part of the process from  the very beginning, and Prop 18 allows that. We need informed and invested voters. More than a third of American states have made this switch to achieve higher voter turnout, and California should follow suit.