Depending on someone's birthday, a new voter may be allowed to vote in a general election but not a primary -- something Assemblyman Kevin Mullin proposes to change.
On Wednesday, Mullin, D-South San Francisco, introduced a California constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the next general election. The bill is identical to one his father, former assemblyman Gene Mullin, introduced in 2008. At the time, the idea didn't generate the two-thirds support it needed from the Assembly.
"The goal of this legislation is to increase voter participation," said Mullin. "Most young people's first contact with politics is in their mandatory high school civics class; this is the perfect time to get them engaged and give them some ownership in the process by getting them to vote in primaries."
Locally, many high schools work to encourage students to be involved in elections even if they can't cast a ballot.
For example, last month about 130 students were the inaugural honorees into the Carlmont High School Vernon Dahmer Voter Hall of Fame. It was sponsored by three government teachers -- Ashley Gray, Kris Weisman and Karen Ramroth. In it, students could earn a spot in the hall of fame by doing one of three things: voting, working in a polling place or getting 10 registered voters to commit to voting. At the time, Gray explained that, statistically, a person is more likely to continue to be involved in elections if they start at 18. Carlmont's push wasn't just to get people to vote, students who aren't citizens were also encouraged to participate, simply to gain a better understanding of how government works and their role in it.
Gray has supported the idea of allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries since it was first suggested.
"I would hope two-thirds of the California legislators would embrace the idea of getting young people engaged in the political process. We had over 100 students at Carlmont High School serve as poll workers this past November -- the interest and knowledge base is there. Let 'em vote," Gray wrote in an email.
Burlingame High government teacher Kevin Nelson found the proposal to be fair.
"Since front-loading is pushing the presidential primaries to earlier months in the election year and the candidates are going to the convention with the nomination in hand, it makes sense to allow the voters who will eventually elect the candidate to actually help select them as well," he said.
San Mateo County promotes student involvement through poll working and many teachers offer students extra credit for taking part in the process. The county started allowing student poll workers in 2004, when only 30 students participated. Students from 30 different San Mateo County schools have participated in the program, called democracyLive!
Twenty other states already allow 17-year-olds to either vote in their respective caucuses or primaries.
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