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Vote Early and Often?

The low participation rate of young American voters in elections is a long-standing problem that many believe is hurting the country’s democracy.

But four state California lawmakers think they have a solution: Let teenagers start voting earlier—even before they’re allowed to drive.

Their proposed amendment to the California Constitution, called "Training Wheels for Citizenship," would extend voting rights in state and local elections to teenagers as young as 14, and would count their votes on a graduated basis. The votes of 14- and 15-year-olds would count as one-fourth of a full vote; the votes of 16- and 17-year-olds would count as one-half of a vote.

Sen. John Vasconcellos, a co-sponsor, said in announcing the measure on March 8 that it would draw more young people into the regular practice of voting.

"It is sad that so many of our young people today are deserting our voting ranks in ever larger numbers," Mr. Vasconcellos, a Democrat, said.

The amendment would "truly serve to once again expand our democracy, and lead to an enormous broadening and deepening of engagement in our civic life and electoral processes," he said.

Many Californians are not as sold on the idea.

Many state residents wrote to local newspapers and called the measure preposterous, and some dismissed it as a self-serving way for liberal Democrats to enlarge their base. Newspaper columnists and radio hosts also ridiculed the idea.

"Voting demands more maturity and life experience than is acquired with a middle school diploma," wrote Bill McEwen, a columnist for the Fresno Bee. "As it is, many adults have difficulty sorting through the complex issues and the billion-dollar consequences on the typical ballot."

The measure must gain the approval of two-thirds of each legislative chamber to go to voters in November. If adopted, it would go into effect in 2006. Neither legislative chamber has taken up the proposal.

— Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 23, Issue 28, Page 18

Published in Print: March 24, 2004, as State Journal

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