Some high school students would groan when asked to find and research an issue in order to try to change their government. Or, they would round up the usual suspects: installing new stops signs or making speed-limit changes.
But students in Jeanine Redlinger's Iowa City High School social studies class were eager to give young people a more influential voice in their local communities. So Ms. Redlinger challenged her juniors and seniors at the 1,650- student school to lobby lawmakers to give 17-year-olds statewide the right to vote in school-related elections. Currently, Iowans must be 18 to vote.
While the "Voting Permit Project" began in 2001, the effort is gaining political steam this year. Local governments, including many school boards, have pledged their support for the voting permit. State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would extend the right to vote to 17-year- olds in school-related elections. But Iowa's secretary of state told Ms. Redlinger and her students during a class visit last month that a constitutional change is the only avenue.
"The bad news is that it's going to be a longer effort," Ms. Redlinger said. "The good news is that it gives me a lot of civics efforts for years to come."
Students in her class have conducted surveys of their classmates at Iowa City High along with students at neighboring high schools in the 10,000-student district. Most students overwhelmingly supported the voting-permit project.
Beth Keffala, 18, said she was surprised that she didn't have to persuade her peers that sending a 17- year-old to the ballot box was a good thing. And although she was skeptical about her classmates' interest in voting, Ms. Keffala said she found "they know more [about politics] than they're generally given credit for."
Blair Frantz, 17, explained that it's better for teenagers to start getting involved in the voting process as early as possible, so that they will continue to exercise their rights in the future.
And for those who may think 17 is too young for voting, Ms. Frantz said, maybe 16- and 15-year-olds should be given the right as well.
"I feel that since we're in school as students, we should have a right to select who's on the school board," Ms. Frantz said. "I think they should give us a chance."
—Karla Scoon Reid
Vol. 22, Issue 22, Page 3Published in Print: February 12, 2003, as Take Note