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Proposition 18: Should 17-Year-Olds Be Eligible To Vote in Primary Elections?

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Sebastian Vera Cuevas, who just turned 15, celebrates Bernie Sanders win in California at the Sanders headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission District on Tuesday, Mar. 3, 2020. If Prop 18 passes, young people who will be 18 by the general election would have the right to vote in the primary when they are still 17. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Today we take on Proposition 18, which would give 17-year-olds — who will be 18 by the general election— the right to vote in the primary. We’re explaining all the propositions on Bay Curious Prop Fest (psst, check out the podcast if you haven’t already). We want you to be your best voting self!


Olivia Allen-Price [00:00:00] Hey, hey, everyone. It’s Olivia Allen-Price coming to you from Bay Curious Prop Fest, our series on the 12 statewide propositions on the California ballot.

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Olivia Allen-Price [00:00:11] KQED’s Guy Marzorati is back again, this time to help us with Proposition 18, which would allow some 17-year-olds to vote in some elections. On your ballot, it reads a little something like this:


Voice 1 [00:00:24] Prop 18 amends the California Constitution to permit 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they will turn 18 by the next general election and be otherwise eligible to vote.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:00:34] We’ll get into the ins and outs of this one on today’s show. Stick around.

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Olivia Allen-Price [00:00:43] Politics reporter Guy Marzorati has been covering Prop 18 for KQED. Hey, Guy.

Guy Marzorati [00:00:48] Hey.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:00:49] So, walk us through what we’re voting on here.

Guy Marzorati [00:00:51] So the very basics is that Proposition 18 would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they turn 18 by the general election.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:01:02] So, to clarify, this would not have helped, for example, me, who was 17 during the 2004 general election and was pretty disgruntled that I wasn’t able to vote, right?

Guy Marzorati [00:01:13] Right. And I was in the same boat, 17 in the 2008 election. This does not change that. If you’re 17, when the general election is happening, you still won’t be able to vote. This is really aimed at the voters who turn 18 in the window between the primary and the general election. It would let them kind of get a head start in voting and let them vote in the primary.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:01:32] Now, some people may think, you know, it’s only the primary, it’s not a huge deal. You still get to vote in the general. Why does it even matter that, you know, young people would be voting in primaries?

Guy Marzorati [00:01:43] Well, proponents really make two arguments. And the first is a question of fairness. They say it’s only fair that voters in the general election also get to have a voice in the primary. Ella Yitzhaki of San Francisco is now a freshman in college, but for the past few years she’s been advocating for this change for exactly that reason.

Ella Yitzhaki [00:02:01] I was cheated out on this election cycle, and thousands of others were cheated out, to not be able to vote in the 2020 primary – such an exciting primary, I should add. It was really disappointing. And I’m not the only one, think about all the people you know who were born between like March and November.

Guy Marzorati [00:02:16] And then the second argument is really around habit building. So supporters say that voting is a habit, the more you do it, the more you’re likely to do it in the future. And that if you let 17-year-olds vote in the primary, when they’re still in high school, they’re getting civics education, that education could be enriched by actually participating in the electoral process. It’s building a habit for the future and might make these young Californians habitual voters.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:02:40] OK, and there are definitely some people who are not excited about the prospect of 17-year-olds voting at all. Let’s hear a little bit about what they argue.

Guy Marzorati [00:02:48] Right. So, when this was put on the ballot by the state legislature, mostly all Democrats supported it, mostly all Republicans opposed it. And anti-tax groups are also against this measure. They say 17-year-olds, most of them are still in high school and they’re captive audiences in classrooms who could be swayed by teachers, especially on school bonds and school taxes. They say basically they might spend a whole day only hearing one side of a campaign, and while there’s 18 states and the District of Columbia that allow this change as well, the opponents of Prop 18 say California is different because we directly vote on taxes, school bonds, parcel taxes. And they say that these 17-year-olds are not to be trusted in those votes. Here’s Susan Shelley with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Susan Shelley [00:03:33] So if 17-year-olds are seeing this in high school and then they’re voting in a primary on school taxes, school bonds, they can be influenced to vote for these taxes without seeing the full argument. Or having the knowledge of the previous tax increases that may have been passed for the same purpose.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:03:52] Another argument that I read was because our primaries have moved so early, some of these voters will actually be, I mean, closer to 16 than they are to 18 when they would be voting in these primaries.

Guy Marzorati [00:04:05] Yeah, and I think there’s – that’s another argument made on the no side, really about brain development that, you know, we’ve set this legal age at 18 and we shouldn’t go any farther below it. I haven’t seen a whole lot of evidence to suggest that 17-year-olds are somehow less likely to make these decisions than 18-year-olds. There are 17-year-olds who pay taxes after all. But that’s definitely something you’re hearing from the no campaign.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:04:29] Now, it’s not often that we actually see propositions that benefit teenage Californians. How did this one make it on the ballot in the first place?

Guy Marzorati [00:04:36] This was put on the ballot by the state legislature. A two thirds vote. And it was largely Democrats who backed it. There was only one Democrat who voted against it in the legislature. Only two Republicans who ended up supporting it.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:04:48] OK. So even though the legislature has already passed this as law, because it’s basically going to be an amendment to the state constitution, they have to get a public approval for it.

Guy Marzorati [00:04:58] That’s right. And you might be thinking, wait, doesn’t the Constitution of the United States kind of set the voting age? And it really only addresses the fact that you can’t deny the right to vote to citizens or 18. It really doesn’t speak to allowing younger citizens to cast ballots, which is why you’ve seen a number of states move in this direction and allow 17-year-olds to participate in the primary, at least if they turn 18 by the general election.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:05:22] Is there any idea on what kind of impact this will actually have on voter turnout?

Guy Marzorati [00:05:27] Well, we have some idea, and that’s because of a study by the Public Policy Institute of California, which took a look at what they called the so-called Prop 18 voters. And there were 200,000 such Californians in this boat in the last couple elections. These voters are potentially a significant bloc, especially for primary elections, where votes can often be very close – decided by a few thousand, a few hundred votes even. But another key finding that the study found was that the participation of these group of voters is really far from being guaranteed. Experts and civic engagement say that passing this measure alone is not going to be enough to boost turnout rates among young voters. I talked with Veronica Terriquez about this. She’s a sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz.

Veronica Terriquez [00:06:11] I think that Proposition 18, if it passes, will be very successful at increasing turnout if it is coupled with civics education at the secondary school level. It creates an opportunity for secondary school educators to really concentrate more time and resources to developing curriculum that excites young people about voting.

Guy Marzorati [00:06:38] So, even folks who are back in this change say it’s not a panacea. It won’t solve all the issues around voting rates and participation of young voters.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:06:46] All right, KQED politics reporter, Guy Marzorati, thanks for your help.

Guy Marzorati [00:06:50] Thank you.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:06:55] A vote yes on Proposition 18 says you think 17-year-olds who will be 18 on general election day should be allowed to vote in primaries. A no vote means you think we should keep things the way they are and only allow people who are 18 or older to cast a vote.

Olivia Allen-Price [00:07:16] That’s it on Prop 18, the youth voting prop. You can catch up on all of our other Prop Fest episodes in our podcast feed or online at Bay Curious dot org slash prop fest.

[00:07:28] Bay Curious is produced by Katrina Schwartz, Rob Speight and Olivia Allen-Price with help from the entire KQED newsroom.

[00:07:36] We’ll be back tomorrow to talk about a property tax transfers. I, for one, can not wait. See you then.


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