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'Luring Youth To The Polls' - A Commentary

By Marisa Trevi?o, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – There's an interesting idea brewing among some California legislators that at first sounds ludicrous, but may not be such a bad idea after some careful thought and fine-tuning.

State Senator John Vasconcellos and four of his colleagues proposed a new amendment to the California constitution: give 16-year-olds a half-vote and 14-year-olds a quarter-vote in state elections.

The legislators reason that with a diverse society, the Internet, and cable and satellite TV, today's teenagers are better informed than their parents and grandparents were at their age.

Opponents already have criticized the proposal as a "nutty idea." But I wonder.

What if we just concentrate on the 16-year-olds? A revised proposal could make any 16-year-old eligible for full voting privileges in local, state and national elections upon satisfactory completion of an accredited civics or government class. The class would have a specified number of hours emphasizing lessons in which they learn to evaluate an issue and conduct take and defend exercises. The class also would cover in-depth such topics as: the principles of democracy, the electoral process, the value of civic involvement and some type of actual civic participation.

After passing of the final exam, the student would receive a temporary voting certificate to be replaced at the age of 18 with the regular voter's registration card.

Still sound nutty?

If the argument is made that kids are too immature and thus a danger in having a hand in determining a political outcome, then the same argument can be made that no 16-year-old should be allowed the privilege to drive. The potential for danger arises more so each time a teenager slips behind a steering wheel rather than slipping inside a voting booth.

For those critics who think kids aren't smart enough to know what the issues are or who are the candidates, they should visit their local high schools. In high school government and economics classes across the country, kids are being quizzed on current events, political races and even political advertising.

Granting voting privileges to 16-year-olds accomplishes a couple of objectives:

It makes school more relevant to them. Students see an immediate correlation between what they are learning in the classroom and how it applies to their lives and their future.

Two, it fosters the seed of civic involvement earlier. A study by two professors of Sonoma State University found that Sonoma County Latino high school students participated less in civic and community activities than their non-Latino counterparts. The researchers contend the continued lack of civic involvement threatens to create a huge population of second-class citizens.

Operation Iraqi Freedom also may provide a compelling reason to lower the voting age. After a year of Iraqi occupation, we have so far lost over 560 soldiers. More than 26 percent were between the ages of 18 and 21. The age group that has the dubious distinction of having the most fatalities is the 20-year-olds.

During the 2000 election, these same 20-year-olds were sixteen. Who knew that in three short years they would be considered old enough to be sent off to fight in a war under a Commander-in-Chief they could have had a voice in selecting?

Many may consider a 16-year-old too young to entrust with the selection of who would lead us in good times and in bad. But 20 is far too young to have to die for any reason.

 

Marisa Trevino is a writer from Rowlett. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or contact out website at kera.org.