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San Francisco Progressives Push For Lowering Minimum Voter Age To 16 For Local Elections

You can hear Phil Matier's comments Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — They can drive, they can work, and now a group of San Francisco city officials, including two supervisors want 16-and 17-year-olds to be eligible to vote.

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos will introduce a measure—the first of its kind in a major U.S. city on Tuesday to do just that.

Avalos, Supervisor Eric Mar and other supporters say it will encourage civic engagement among youths and instill lifelong voting habits.

While two small cities in Maryland already have such voting laws where the teen turnout is four times of that of adults, the measure here should make interesting fodder for talk shows and web blogs because this is San Francisco after all.

But in order to pass, the Board of Supervisors would have to approve a charter amendment which would then go on the ballot for all currently eligible voters to decide. This November would be the earliest that such vote could be decided on.

This push comes from a combination of some city teens who want to take part in the voting system and the city's progressives.

The San Francisco Youth Commission recently passed a resolution asking for the expansion of voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds. But there is also the assumption that they will make choices that will lean liberal. That's why the measure is being pushed by the progressives—including Public Defender Jeff Adachi—who have lost ground in recent elections due to the growing moderate movement represented by Mayor Ed Lee.

Having teens vote is not going to move mountains and change presidential elections; however, it may have an effect on smaller local items such as school bonds in which swing votes by one or two percent could make a difference.

So where could this new dynamic lead? Could high school civics teacher become ward bosses who sit down with politicians and promise deliveries of votes?

Trying to get more people to vote, especially young people, is nothing new. The state of Oregon just passed an automatic voter registration and California already does the same thing with the Department of Motor Vehicles. But, like it or not, the fact is that there is one block of voters that consistently turns out to the polls: older white home owners and tax payers. While they are only 12 percent of the state's population, they make up 35 percent of the voters.

Trying to get voters to turn out on issues is a bit like people eating at a restaurant: there's one group looking at the entrées, the appetizers and desserts thinking how great it will all taste, and then there is someone else who's paying the tab and wondering how much it's all going to cost.

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