Latest ‘Wild Thing’ from Sacramento: Lowering Voting Age to 17
I loved the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are when I was a kid. If I were to write a story about the political version of Where the Wild Things Are, I’d set it on the floor of the State Assembly during the final weeks of the legislative session.
As Capitol insiders know, that’s where all of Sacramento’s wild things are – the wild legislation promoting the agenda of individual lawmakers, not necessarily the top priorities of Californians like addressing the state’s housing crisis or getting rampant homelessness under control.
The latest wild thing is a constitutional amendment (ACA 4) that would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections in California, provided that they will turn 18 before the November general election.
Another wild thing (ACA 8) cleared the Assembly last week with the required two-thirds votes. It would simply lower the voting age in California to 17.
Arguing that “the time has come for ACA 4,” Assembly Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin, the bill’s author, has tried multiple times before to put the measure before California voters. His father, a former State Assembly member himself, also tried multiple times to let 17-year-olds vote.
Supporters say the change will help energize young people to become regular voters at an early age. They have their work cut out. According to exit poll data, 18-29 year old voters comprised 19 percent of the electorate in the 2016 presidential election – which was exactly the same percentage as in 2012.
So, what’s really behind the push to lower the voting age in California? As I have written about in the past on Right by the Bay, ACA 4 is the latest in the effort by Sacramento Democrats to alter the voting process in California to maximize their partisan advantage.
Mullin tips his hand in his written statement in the bill’s floor analysis: “Allow 17-year-olds to register and participate in primary elections would complement the civic education many receive in the high schools.”
And you can expect that the civic education they receive will be one-sided on the left.
A few years back, Verdant Labs compiled a report calculating the likelihood of different professions to be dominated by members of one political party of another. They based their findings on political donations to federal candidates and job titles. Their analysis found that among high school teachers, there are 87 Democrats for every 13 Republicans.
When discussing political parties, candidates, or public policy issues, the left-leaning political biases of such an overwhelmingly-Democratic group as high school teachers will surely flavor the classroom discussion of voting and politics. It’s human nature.
Despite these biases, most teachers are not going to try and indoctrinate their students to join their political team. But there will be some teachers – those who are political activists outside the classroom – who will surely try to push their liberal worldview on impressionable 17-year-olds, many of whom haven’t yet formed their views. And parents won’t even know.
Unlike with the media, there’s no equal time requirement for classroom discussion. You won’t see me invited into a public high school civics class to counter a classroom discussion on the push for single-payer health care or so-called free college or make the case for free-market economics.
It’s one thing to teach students about how important their vote truly is – and about the power of one individual to change the course of California with their vote. That would be a noble effort. It’s quite another to try and influence the voting patterns of a captive audience, which is the real intent behind the move to lower the voting age.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.