In a recent informal poll of 20 University of La Verne students, half said they would support lowering the voting age to 17 in California.
California Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Randy Voepel, R-Santee, introduced a constitutional amendment Feb. 11 that would lower the voting age to 17, an amendment that Low had tried to bring forth in 2017.
Currently, 16- and 17-year olds can pre-register to vote, but cannot vote in elections until they are 18.
Erik Bahnson, senior environmental ethics major, said the current timing can be disorienting for new voters. Those who graduated high school gain the right to vote right around the same time that they leave for college. By lowering the voting age to 17, students would have the capacity to vote while they are still in their home communities.
“Voter turnout as it is, is already too low,” Bahnson said. “Civic education at the secondary level could be augmented by real voting programs.”
Lindsey Martin, sophomore child development major, said she supported the amendment for similar reasons.
“At that time, students are seniors and are taking government classes, and it would be a good way for them to put that learning into practice,” Martin said.
Pollsters who supported the constitutional amendment said that at age 17, or roughly in the junior and senior years of high school, students are taking basic government and civics courses that would help them understand the political process. As it is, 17-year-olds are already getting a taste of responsibility.
“Students are deciding their futures at 17,” said Yael Havton, junior athletic training major. “If they’re trusted to make that decision, then they should be trusted with politics.”
Some students who opposed the amendment said that younger voters are relatively inactive in politics as it is, so lowering the voting age would make little difference.
Other students saw little reason to lower the voting age, especially since the current voting age is set at the legal age of majority.
Monica Edaburn, freshman education major, said that she opposed the amendment because 17-year-olds, who often still live with their parents, lack the maturity and exposure to make political decisions.
“They’ll just vote what their parents think,” Edaburn said.
Maya Gray, freshman education and Spanish major, agreed with Edaburn and said that students that age often lack interest in the political process anyway.
“I feel like people vote without having a lot of information,” Gray said.
“When I was 17, I didn’t think a lot about political stuff.”
Jason Neidleman, professor of political science, said he believes 17-year-olds should get to cast their votes.
The voting age should match the age of eligibility for employment, he said.
He added that he also finds arguments against the measure based on whether 17-year-olds are actually “informed” voters to be insufficient.
What matters more, he said, is if a student that age has the capacity to become informed.
“What I think we should focus on is not the voter him or herself so much, but on the access to credible, reliable information,” Neidleman said.
“We can’t make people consume that information, but we can actually do a lot to make sure that access to the important information is made available to voters.”
Aryn Plax can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.