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    Strengthening Youth Voting Will Strengthen Our Democracy

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    One of the challenges facing our democracy is the underrepresentation of the needs of youth. From the horrors of stop-and-frisk committed against Black and Brown teenagers, to devastating cuts to education, to the lack of action on climate change endangering our future, the needs of young people need to be more included in our decision making.

    As a result, I am honored to be in solidarity with a large coalition of Oakland youth, with whom we are now working together to change our laws, to provide teenagers aged 16–17 the opportunity to vote in local school board elections. We recently initiated the proposal, and it will come to the Oakland City Council to consider placing it on the November 2020 ballot.

    OUSD (Oakland Unified School District) students are politically engaged and aware of the social issues that adversely impact their school, neighborhoods, and communities; and our youth are asking for their voices to be heard and their needs to be included.

    California currently allows 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote in efforts to boost turn-out. At age 16, young people in California can drive, work without restrictions, and pay taxes on their employment, as well as take care of their siblings, translate for their parents, and contribute to the family income. Youth under the age of 18 are making vital contributions to society every day, including leading with solutions and bold action on global climate change, gun violence, improving their schools, and more.

    In Oakland, 16 and 17-year-old young adults cannot vote in School Board elections, despite the impact that decisions made by School Board Directors can have on students. Students are the primary recipients and stakeholders of the services provided by schools, and their experiences, needs, and concerns should inform district policy and the priorities of School Board members.

    Oakland students receive hundreds of instruction hours on the values of democracy and civic engagement, and this will be an opportunity to put these lessons into practice, integrating actual voting responsibility into the learning process and their educational experience.

    Approximately 70% of voters in the neighboring city of Berkeley recently voted to allow persons aged 16 and 17-years-old to vote in school board elections. We must recognize the value of young adults and the positive impact this can have in building long-term participation in our democracy. Let’s help Oakland youth have the voice and rights they deserve for a better future!

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( ) and Facebook ( ).

    Published on February 27, 2020