Millennials are bucking the disengaged stereotype and making themselves heard. (Photo Credit: Sterling College)
Last November Millennials proved that young voters matter. The youngest generation of eligible voters were among those credited with helping re-elect President Obama and, in California, playing a critical role in the passage of Prop. 30.
Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, make up the fastest growing and most diverse generation in history. By the 2020 presidential election, by which time all members of this generation will be of voting age, Millennials will represent nearly 40 percent of all eligible voters nationwide.
In an effort to acknowledge this increasingly influential voting bloc, legislators introduced three bills last week aimed at boosting voter turnout among young people.
ACA 7, the first piece of legislation introduced by freshman Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D- South San Francisco), would amend California’s constitution to permit 17- year olds to vote in primaries if their 18th birthday falls before the general election.
“The goal of this legislation is to increase voter participation,” said Mullin in a statement. “Most young people’s first contact with politics is in their mandatory high school civics class; this is the perfect time to get them engaged and give them some ownership in the process by getting them to vote in primaries.”
Allowing this age group to have a say in deciding which candidates will appear on the ballot in November makes it the “logical extension of their vote in the general election,” explained Mullin.
The proposal is identical to several bills proposed by his father, former Assemblymember and high school civics teacher Gene Mullin. Those bills never achieved the two-thirds vote required in the Legislature to put the reform before voters, but that may change now that the Democrats have secured a super majority in both chambers.
If passed by the Legislature and voters, California would join 20 states that already allow 17-year olds to vote in primaries and caucuses.
Students would also be the chief beneficiaries of SB 240, authored by Senator Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), which would require at least one polling place be located on every UC and CSU campus. The bill, similar to legislation introduced last week by Senator Fran Pavely (D- Agoura Hills), aims to make voting easier for and accessible to students by removing barriers to the ballot box.
“It is critical that students have their voices heard at the ballot box,” said Yee, who authored the legislation approving online voter registration. “Not only is the cost of their education at stake, so is the economy and society they will inherit.”
California should invest in bringing more youth into the electoral process. Studies show that voting is habit forming and that engaging young people early often creates life-long voters. “States with preregistration programs have long term, positive effects for thousands of young citizens,” said California Forward’s Caroline Bruister. “Getting more people to vote should and can be a priority of an inclusive and robust democracy.”
Expanding the engaged electorate, by removing barriers to voting, benefits all Californians. Encouraging full participation by young people in the electoral process helps to legitimize and strengthen our vibrant representative democracy.