'Young People Have Voices': Why SF's Arianna Nassiri Wants 16 Year Olds to Vote

3 min
San Francisco Youth Commissioner Arianna Nassiri. (Courtesy Arianna Nassiri)

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enshrined women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States, is on Aug. 18, 2020. So we’re asking politically engaged women in our community to share their personal voting stories with you.

Today: From pre-teen political intern to campaigner for a lower voter age, meet San Francisco Youth Commissioner Arianna Nassiri.

Arianna Nassiri was casting about for something to do a few summers ago. So she decided to apply for an internship at San Francisco City Hall.

She sent in her paperwork, waited for about a month, and was thrilled to get an interview.

"I show up to the interview, and London Breed's legislative aide goes, 'Oh my goodness, you must not have graduated high school yet!' And I said, 'Well, no, I'm actually going into eighth grade.'"

Nassiri said it was only at that point her 12-year-old self realized the internship was meant for college-age applicants.

"The whole office started laughing," she said. "But they ended up giving me the position."

That internship kick-started Nassiri’s political career.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi introduces San Francisco Youth Commissioner Arianna Nassiri at a 2019 press conference. (Courtesy of YouTube)

Since she joined the city's Youth Commission in 2017, she’s appeared on the podium alongside Nancy Pelosi, where the teen gave a speech about the importance of voter representation and maintaining an integral election system.

And she’s leading the "Vote16" campaign to lower the voting age in San Francisco to 16.

"San Francisco young people, on average, pay taxes, drive, pay for SFMTA, and they're enrolled in San Francisco Unified Schools — all systems that are controlled by the legislation that's passed in elections," Nassiri said. "And these young people have voices that are currently absent in the electorate."

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In the lead-up to the 2016 election, local youth worked around the clock to rally support for lowering the voting age. A KQED video followed a group of teens out canvassing for the Vote16 campaign, which was put before San Francisco voters as Proposition F.

If Prop F had passed, it would have made San Francisco the first major U.S. city to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections.

Nassiri wasn’t part of that campaign, but remembers it was a close call; Prop F only lost by around three percentage points.

"And that margin can easily be written off as a lack of campaigning experience, and even just one district that was not necessarily involved in the campaign," she said.

There's nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says states cannot lower the voting age.

19th Amendment Centennial

Although the federal voting age is 18, roughly one third of U.S. states allow those who are 17 but will be 18 by the general election to vote in primaries.

The small Maryland cities of Takoma Park, Hyattsville, Greenbelt and Riverdale Park are currently the only U.S. municipalities allowing 16-year-olds to vote — and here in the Bay Area, Berkeley allows them to vote in school board elections.

Meanwhile, a handful of other countries, like Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Scotland, have enfranchised their 16- and 17-year-old citizens at the ballot box.

A new Vote16 ballot measure is scheduled to appear on the San Francisco ballot in the upcoming November election. And as she gears up for the campaign, Nassiri sees a direct link between the effort to enfranchise young people and the struggle the suffragists faced over a hundred years ago on the long, hard journey to secure the 19th Amendment.

"After the 2016 election, a lot of young people in the city were discouraged," she said. "But there were dozens of attempts to get the Nineteenth Amendment passed before it was actually passed. So who are we to assume that our fight is going to be any easier?"

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Use the box below to tell us about the first time you voted. We'd love to potentially feature your experience on KQED: