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Experts say California’s rejection of Proposition 18 highlights resistance toward younger voices in the voting process

Members of the USC community reflect on the proposition that would have legalized the right to vote for 17-year-olds

Proposition 18, a measure that would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in certain elections, was voted down in California by a 55% majority, according to the Associated Press.

If passed, it would have given 17-year-olds the right to vote in special elections and primaries if they turned 18 by the next general election date.

While the federal voting age is 18, this election law reform has already been adopted by 18 other states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“A lot of young people feel like they understand the issues in our country well enough to be able to make an informed decision and cast their votes,” Kambiz “Kamy” Akhavan, the executive director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, said in an interview with Annenberg Media. “There have been efforts not just in California, but in many states to lower the voting age.”

Other countries, including Brazil, Scotland, Ecuador and Argentina, require citizens to be a minimum of 16 years of age to vote. In 2007, Austria became the first member of the European Union to adopt the legal voting age of 16.

Morley Winograd, a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication, Leadership and Policy, said Proposition 18 could have been overshadowed by the other 11 measures on the docket.

“We have so many ballot propositions in California, unlike other states where it’s unusual to have two or three, more than two or three or even that many on a ballot at any time,” Winograd said. “It did get kind of drowned out and not well discussed.”

The proposition’s official support committee was largely backed by progressive groups, including philanthropist Patty Quillin and Evan Low, a Democrat California State Assemblymember. In total, support for the ballot measure reached $1.92 million between Padilla’s committee and the official support committee on Cal-Access.

Proposition 18 did not have formal opposition, according to Cal-Access, the Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s campaign finance website.

It did garner opposition from the Election Integrity Project California (EIPC), which submitted multiple letters of opposition during state assembly and senate processes.

“They are almost all still living at home and under the strong influence of their parents,” wrote the EIPC in its June assembly letter. “This is not conducive to independent thought and voting without undue pressure from their immediate superiors… This again makes it less likely that they would be expressing their own, independently thought-out choices were they to be allowed to vote.”

As young people are exposed to civic education courses, Akhavan said, they are more than equipped with the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions in the voting process.

“16-year-olds are taught social studies, they’re taught civics. These things are fresh in their minds, but they’re certainly impacted by governmental decisions and should have some agency in their own futures by being able to vote,” Akhavan said. “The younger a person engages in our democratic process as the voter, the more likely they are to retain that for their whole lives.”

Mindy Romero, the founder and director of USC’s Center for Inclusive Democracy, emphasized the hesitancy American society has shown in bringing younger generations into politics.

“Not a lot of people, a lot of groups, certainly with money, seem to think this issue is very important. Maybe [that] helps make the point a little bit,” said Romero. “That we just don’t think about young people and voting very much, do we? We’re not willing to fight over it when it comes to money and resources.”

The 26th Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, was passed by Congress on March 23, 1971 and ratified July 1, 1971. This amendment had the shortest ratification time of all 27 amendments. The ratification process only took three months and ten days, when the average ratification period during the time was one year and eight months.

“I think that in our larger society, there’s obviously still a resistance to this idea of young people [voting],” Romero said. “We have this general idea that young people kind of have to earn their way. I think Americans in our society think that young people need to prove their worthiness of voting or may be skeptical sometimes of young people voting.”

This may not be the end for Proposition 18. Winograd, Romero and Akhavan all agree that a measure to lower the legal voting age in California will come back again.

This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Mindy Romero’s name. Annenberg Media apologizes for the error.