The city of San Francisco might become the first major city in the United States to grant voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds in municipal elections. The measure to lower the voting age will appear on the city’s ballot this November.
The mission to provide younger teenagers with voting rights has been led by teen activists, as part of the VoteSF16 campaign, which was initiated by the San Francisco Youth Commission five years ago. The campaign’s website states that teenagers “need to make voting a habit,” and that “16- and 17-year-olds are ready to vote.” It also states that “16- and 17-year-olds have a stake in the game, and elected officials must treat them as equal constituents.”
This isn’t the first time San Francisco has tried to get a measure like this passed. It tried – and failed – in 2016, when another measure aimed at lowering the voting age in local races was defeated 52% to 48%.
“I’m always inspired by our nation’s youth who have demonstrated wisdom, maturity and passion on issues like social justice, gun control, and climate change,” said Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. in a statement. In 2018, Meng introduced a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 16 across the nation. “They are the leaders of our future and the decisions we make impact their lives every day. To capture their views and experiences, we must lower the voting age to 16 in all elections.”
Federal vs. State vs. Local Elections
In 1970, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of Oregon v. Mitchell, and ruled that Congress held the authority to lower the voting age in federal elections, but not in state and local elections. The following year, Congress passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, lowering the voting age to 18; in most of the country the voting age was 21 at that time.
Although San Francisco would be the first major U.S. city to lower the voting age if the measure passes this fall, it wouldn’t be the first city to do so. That honor belongs to Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., which in 2013 lowered the voting age to 16 for its local elections. Other D.C. suburbs followed suit over the ensuing few years, like Greenbelt, Hyattsville and Riverdale Park. Additionally, according to Business Insider, there are 18 states that currently allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections, as long as they will be 18 by the general election.