California Plays Voting Age Limbo with Prop. 18

Voters will be asked to decide on many important ballot propositions on November 3 with rent control, the future of independent contractors, and data privacy among the most impactful issues on the ballot. One proposition that voters may overlook is Proposition 18, which would allow 17-year-olds to vote.

Before you tell me that you have to be an 18-year-old to vote, Proposition 18 follows a wrinkle by allowing a 17-year-old United States citizen to vote in a primary election or special election as long as they turn 18 before the primary election in the fall. Why? Civic engagement, according to the bill author, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin.

California is following in the footsteps of 18 other states, and Washington, D.C., who have already adopted this voting precedent, with some even pushing pre-registration to 16-year-olds.

Prop. 18 was put on the ballot through a legislative bill called an Assembly Concurrent Resolution, or ACA. An ACA bill is like any other law – it goes through the legislative hearing process, is voted on by the assembly and senate, and signed by the governor – except once it is approved, it is placed on the next primary ballot for voters to decide. Passage of an ACA means the California Constitution is changed to reflect the new law.

Assemblyman Kevin Mullin said ACA 4 would, “create an opportunity to engage California’s youngest voter demographic and boost youth participation in our elections” during a floor speech on June 26, 2020. It was also Assemblyman Mullin’s third attempt to pass the bill in as many years.

The bill analysis for ACA 4 also points to low dismal voter turnout in primary and special elections, which hovered around 28 percent in 2018.The analysis also noted a 2004 legislative counsel opinion that found permitting a person under the age of 18 to vote would not violate federal law.

Prop. 18 is not a bad concept in theory. If you are 17 during the spring primary, but turn 18 before the fall general election, it seems logical that your vote should play a part in both contests. Imagine showing up for a test only to realize you were given half the study guide or sitting down for an interview without knowing the job title or description.

But the U.S. Constitution says that 18 is the minimum age for a citizen vote per the 26th Amendment. If that is the law of the land, is this more about political gamesmanship than civic engagement? It is hard to say. There is no doubt that certain parties and groups would benefit from Prop. 18’s passage.

However, some states are pulling back from 17-year-olds voting. Colorado could take away the right to vote at 17 after passing a law in favor in 2019. That’s roughly 24,000 new voters, according to the Colorado Sun. A blog from the Public Policy Institute of California made a good argument 17-year-olds, or “Prop.18 voters,” won’t make significant changes to the outcome of all statewide elections, but they could decide the handful of tightly contested races at the local level.

If you are worried about the added costs of more voters to the process, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Prop. 18 would bring minor costs to the state every two-year election cycle. By the way, there was another ACA introduced that would have let all 17-year-olds vote in any election.

So, is ACA 4, and now Proposition 18, a rallying cry for higher voter turnout in California or politically driven? Prop. 18 is bending age requirements for voting while still keeping the intent of the law. But it will probably be a matter of time before more bills and propositions start pushing for 17-year-old voting. Ultimately, Prop. 18 the voters will decide if the youth vote keeps moving lower or stays at 18 this November.

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager at PRI.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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