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Can the Answer to Improved Civic Education Be Found in Lowering the Voting Age to 16?

Can lowering the voting age to 16 be the change that civic education in America desperately needs? A bold idea, yes, but a realistic one that needs to be considered, says Vote16USA Coordinator Brandon Klugman in a conversation with Education World. Vote16USA is a campaign organized by non-profit Generation Citizen, an organization devoted to getting civic education back into the classroom. 

"People Are Hungry for Solutions"

Lowering the voting age to 16, Klugman says, is a viable solution to the problem of stagnant and lackluster civic education that has been associated with perennially low voter turnout; despite the 2016 general election being an incredibly divisive one, voter turnout dipped to the lowest numbers in over 20 years. 

"We think that first and foremost this is a really good time for us to be advocators of this idea because after such a vitriolic election season, a lot of people are really frustrated with how the election season played out," Klugman said.

"There was a really apparent sense of a lack of focus on issues. A lot of people are pointing to the fact that we need to really make sure that future generations are ready to be informed and engaged participating in democracy. We think that people are hungry for solutions and Vote16 is a solution."

172,000 People in San Francisco Vote Yes 

172,000 people in San Francisco agreed with Klugman this year after voting yes on a ballot measure to lower the voting age in the city’s municipal elections to 16. Thanks to a dedicated youth-led campaign, Proposition F was just shy of passing at 48 percent.

According to Klugman, this is evidence that this new and bold idea is both a viable and realistic one.

This idea "earned over 172,000 votes in San Francisco. Two years ago when the young people there started this campaign, those 172,000 people hadn’t thought about this idea at all, likely. In the course of those two years from the time it started until election day those 172,000 learned about this idea, considered it for the first time and decided to vote yes," Klugman said.

"We think that’s a really powerful statement this is a bold idea but it’s a realistic way to improve youth voter turnout and civic engagement in the long run.”

High School Students Campaign for Voice in Berkley

For those who might dare to argue that youth interest to get into the voting booth isn’t there, a hard fought battle led by Berkley high school students to have a say in their local school board elections suggests otherwise.

Unanimously placed on the Berkley voters’ ballot, Measure Y1 gives 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote for "Berkeley school board directors in the General Election, provided certain operating and financial conditions are met."

Met with no opposition, Measure Y1 passed on election day.

While the Vote16USA campaign wants students to be eligible to vote in every facet of municipal elections, Klugman champions the Berkley-led campaign as an important first step.

"The folks leading the campaign in Berkley who led that campaign from Day 1... they determined this was most feasible to win and what they were passionate about right away," he said.

From here, Klugman says they are that much closer to winning the right to vote in all of the city’s municipal elections.

"I think in the future, they might look to build on that with another proposal to extend that to all local elections," he said.

How to Get Involved

If you’re interested in getting involved, Vote16USA wants to offer its help to making lowering the voting age possible in your local community.

"Our main goal is to support people working in the local level so we’d love to connect with anyone who is interested in pursuing this in their town or their city. We have resources for folks who want to advocate and we are eager to connect with anyone who wants to help...or advocate directly," Klugman said.

You can contact the campaign directly here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

12/6/2016

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