San Fran Wants to Lower Voting Age to 16

With shades of the 1960s Youth Movement, San Francisco might drop its voting age to 16 from 18. Doing so only would affect city elections, as other elections are affected by state and federal voting laws. Yet Fog City often has been a harbinger of national trends.

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The reform is the idea of Supervisor John Avalos. He said, “I have seen the power of young people to be able to make changes and positive contributions to their community, and it makes sense to give them the right to vote.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Avalos and other supporters say it will encourage civic engagement among youths and instill in them lifelong voting habits at a time when turnout is low.” In addition, “Sixteen-year-olds can drive, work, pay taxes and be sentenced to life in prison.”

On March 16, two youngsters from the San Francisco Youth Commission led chants before City Hall on reducing the voting age. Said one of them, Joshua Cardenas, an 18-year-old senior at Archbishop Riordan High School, “You can drive, you can work, you can pay taxes and you can be tried in adult court, and yet you are denied the right to vote. There is a contradiction there. Certainly, they have the knowledge and competence to vote at 16.”


“It’s a terrible idea,” John J. Pitney Jr. told the Chronicle; he’s a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Sixteen-year-olds have a lot going for them, but civic judgment isn’t one of those things.”

“There isn’t a single age at which an adolescent becomes like an adult for purposes of thinking through things. It really depends on the issue and domain,” said Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University.

Conservatives also point out that people ages 16-17 commonly hold more liberal views than the general electorate.

Moreover, one survey indicated that, until they go to college, kids’ political views closely mirror those of their parents. According to a study by the National Social Sciences Association, 96 percent of high-school students’ political views “matched their parent/guardians’ political views. … Although teachers long for students to develop political beliefs based on research, this study concludes that most will follow in their parents/guardians’ foot steps.”

The implication is that, if the voting age were dropped, the voting clout most increased would be that of parents of the new voters; while everyone else’s clout would be reduced slightly.

1960s agitation

The 1960s arguments for dropping the voting age to 18 from 21 largely concerned the draft and the Vietnam War. The age of most draftees was 19. And large numbers of the 550,000 troops in in Vietnam at the height of the war were under 21.

As longtime Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in 1970 in hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments:

“The well-known proposition — ‘old enough to fight, old enough to vote’ — deserves special mention. To me, this part of the argument for granting the vote to 18-year-olds has great appeal. At the very least, the opportunity to vote should be granted in recognition of the risks an 18 year-old is obliged to assume when he is sent off to fight and perhaps die for his country. About 30 percent of our forces in Vietnam are under 21. Over 19,000, or almost half, of those who have died in action there were under 21. Can we really maintain that these young men did not deserve the right to vote?”

In the San Francisco situation, such an argument would not be too strong. Although America is engaged in wars in Iraq and elsewhere, there is no draft and one isn’t likely anytime soon, although there is draft registration for young men (not young women). And although the military accepts 17-year-olds with parental consent, the long months of training in the modern military mean almost no one will be 18 before going into a war or potential war.


There were other reasons for lowering the voting age to 18, which was accomplished in 1971 by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Among other things, Kennedy said:

“Our young people today are far better equipped — intellectually, physically and emotionally — to make the type of choices involved in voting than were past generations of youth. … Because of the enormous impact of modern communications, especially television, our youth are extremely well informed on all the crucial issues of our time, foreign and domestic, national and local, urban and rural.

“Today’s 18-year-olds, for example, have unparalleled opportunities for education at the high school level.”

Some of those arguments might be pertinent today to further reducing the voting age to 16, including the spread of the Internet and social media.

On the other hand, California’s schools, which led the nation during the so-called “Golden Age” of 1960s education, since havefallen near the bottom on national tests.

‘Wild in the Streets’

As it usually does, San Francisco will sort things out on its own.

But the debate has an amusing element because of a classic cult movie made during the debate over the voting age, 1968’s “Wild in the Streets.” A youth movement is led by a Jim Morrison imitator named Max Frost, 24. His hit song, “Fourteen or Fight,” demands dropping the voting age to 14.

In a compromise with a senator played by Hal Holbrook, the age is dropped to 15. The youth the elect Max president.

Look for a young Richard Pryor as Stanley X, the drummer in Max’s group.

It’s a parody. But sometimes parodies become reality.

This piece was originally published on

wild in the streets


  1. Total Nonsense – 16 year olds do not have the experience to be able to vote. It is bad enough with 18 years olds. All they want is the DEMOCRAP VOTE!!!!!!!!!

  2. Rottweiler says

    At 26 these so called “youth” are still living at their parents (often a single parent) sleeping on their couch and couldn’t wipe their own ass if someone didn’t give them directions. I don’t need a uneducated barrista to vote in elections but I know the vacuous SF crowd does. They can have more immoral laws to make them feel normal as if that word applied in the land of idiots. If there were a natural disaster in SF who would survive on instincts alone, discounting feelings of equality? None that is how many. They are complete “boobs”, lacking common sense and their religion is based entirely on race, gender and social class and that is why they would not exist unless someone else takes care of them.

  3. Dexter Massoletti, Sr. says

    The corruption of the ballot as reached a point where the age of the voter may be of little or no significance. We do not know if the votes of the living or the dead are actually counted.
    Based upon his performance, John Avalos not unlike many others, should be removed from any position of authority or influence.
    What responsibilities do 16 years-olds really have, John ?
    to obey their parent(s)?
    clean their room?
    feed the dog?
    Should they be ’empowered’ beyond their capabilities just to give us another social experiment by idiots, many of whom are aged 5 year-olds?
    It may be more rational to raise the voting age to 30 and throw out all the criminals and fools in politics that are being tolerated for so many lame reasons.
    What next? Make illegals law enforcement officers, because it they can be paid less and it will ‘foster acceptance’ and ‘build character’?
    Life is going to get very very serious very soon.
    Cope with that.

  4. Let anyone/everyone vote, but first they have to pass a drug test…..
    if they’re “clean” they can’t vote.

  5. Almost to nonsensical to comment on. To be raised and educated in the hot bed of Left Wingnut insanity and given the power to vote? The uninformed leading the uninformed at best..

  6. It stands to reason, San Francisco likes uninformed voters… you can see this with the people they have elected, and the laws they have…..

  7. Gotta Gedada Displace says

    What age do you have to be to be HELD RESPONSIBLE for contracts? I doubt it is anywhere NEAR 16! Typical noise from the Asylum by the Bay, where common sense or (ACKnowledgement of or) knowledge of Law is never an impediment!

  8. Sebra Leaves says

    You may say that some San Francisco residents are considering lowering the voting age to 16 for some issues, but, I would not say that San Francisco supports lowering the voting age.

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