Should San Diego lower the city’s voting age from 18 to 16? Not such a great idea, opines deputy city attorney Sharon Spivak, a onetime Union-Tribune city hall reporter, in a response to a request for advice from departing Democratic city-council member Marti Emerald.
For starters, if the voting age were changed, 16-year-olds could run for council and mayor. The city charter says elected officials must “devote full time to the duties of their office,” and councilmembers must “attend all Council meetings.” Notes Spivak, “These sections would be at odds with California’s compulsory education laws, which may require that a given voter be in school full-time, or state labor laws.”
There would also be financial costs to consider. Those under 18 would still be “prohibited from voting at the state and federal levels, requiring a separate ballot to accommodate them.”
Adds the advice letter, “There is no precedent for a 16-year-old voting age in California or nationwide, with two small Maryland cities as the only reported exceptions: The first city reported to have passed such a law, allowing 16-year-olds to vote in its municipal elections, is Takoma Park, Maryland, a city of about 17,000 people. The Charter change to allow younger voters was enacted by a seven-person City Council vote in 2013, without a requirement to submit the question to voters. By contrast, California law requires a vote of the people to amend San Diego’s Charter.”