Recap: April 12 – voting and not much else

Very short agenda for last night’s meeting, which was good because we were in danger of losing quorum most of the meeting. Commissioners Walton and Murase are out of the country, and Commissioners Wynns, Fewer and I are running for office with heavy demands on our time at the moment.
Somehow we made it work, and I am very proud that “Encouraging Students to Exercise Their Voting Rights,” authored by Commissioner Fewer and I, and co-sponsored by student delegates Teresia Chen and Miguel Tantiado, passed unanimously. I’m very grateful to the Youth Commissioners who came out to testify in favor, and I owe a huge debt to the youth of Vote16SF who have been incredibly passionate and persuasive advocates for lowering the voting age.

In February, the Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Vote16 initiative, but we felt we could actually go further, right now, before voters actually go to the polls to decide whether to lower the voting age. Last night’s resolution doesn’t require an act of the voters, because it’s already state law that people as young as 16 can pre-register to vote. When I learned that,  I looked up the research on pre-registration. A 2009 study from George Mason University tracked outcomes of pre-registration programs in Florida and Hawaii and found that they were helpful in encouraging regular voting. So, why not promote voting in the American Democracy classes every senior in SFUSD already takes? And why not make voter registration forms available so that every SFUSD student who is eligible to register knows how to do so?

Originally, we wanted to make voter registration a classroom activity, but because a significant percentage of our students  (we don’t know exactly how many and we don’t ask) are undocumented, such a requirement could put an undetermined number of students at risk for filing a false government document. So instead, the school district will partner with the Department of Elections and make voter registration forms available to students, and we will also make sure students know whether or not they are eligible to vote.

Some people think 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote, and as a parent of a 16-year-old, I understand that instinct, because 16-year-0lds can be very exasperating. But they can also be incredibly earnest, idealistic and thoughtful, and adults tend to make a lot of decisions for them without asking. Also, when you think about it, driving is as much a privilege as voting when you factor in personal responsibility. In addition, voting is a habit that takes root over time. If, as I do, you care about people exercising their right to vote as early and as often as legal, Vote16 is not a hard leap to make.

A number of public speakers came out to denounce a proposed resolution (pulled by the authors, Commissioners Mendoza and Fewer) that urged information about “comfort women” be included in the state’s history standards. The history of comfort women has been a hot topic of late, because activists have been pushing for this very dark chapter of WWII history to become better-known and acknowledged. Other activists say that the “sexual slavery” narrative of the comfort women is overblown.

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