Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal
Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and his father, former assemblyman Gene Mullin, talk with South San Francisco High School seniors about civic engagement Friday morning.
If only older voters are going to the ballot, which people will elected officials listen to most, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin asked a group of about 80 seniors at South San Francisco High School Friday morning.
The group universally said “older people.”
Gene Mullin, former assemblyman and father to Kevin, stood up and raised his hand and said, “my age.”
The father-son duo talked with two different groups of high school seniors Friday to discuss a California constitutional amendment, introduced by Kevin Mullin earlier this year, to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the next general election. The bill is identical to one his father, a former assemblyman, introduced in 2008. At the time, the idea didn’t generate the two-thirds support it needed from the Assembly.
Gene Mullin explained that Republicans were afraid giving young people the right to vote would mean a sharp increase in Democrats. While both Mullins are Democrats, they told students multiple times it wasn’t about a party. This effort is about involvement. But now, Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature — a move that gives the effort hope. If the changes gets approved by the Legislature, it could go before California voters in 2014 allowing 17-year-olds to vote in the 2016 presidential primary.
Currently, depending on someone’s birthday, a new voter may be allowed to vote in a general election but not a primary. A change to the system, Kevin Mullin told students, would allow young voters to learn about local elections in civics class and actually vote.
“You’d be some of the most educated voters,” he said.
As the men explained, time isn’t often spent in the classroom explaining local and state politics but it can impact a teen’s life. For example, there’s a proposal to change the age a person can get a driver’s license. And, the budget decisions clearly dictate the school day, Kevin Mullin pointed out. Getting involved early, both said, means a person is more likely to continue to be involved in elections if they start at 18.
Locally, many high schools work to encourage students to be involved in elections even if they can’t cast a ballot.
For example, earlier this year, about 130 students were the inaugural honorees into the Carlmont High School Vernon Dahmer Voter Hall of Fame. To be recognized, students needed to do one of three things: vote, work in a polling place or get 10 registered voters to commit to voting.
San Mateo County promotes student involvement through poll working and many teachers offer students extra credit for taking part in the process. The county started allowing student poll workers in 2004, when only 30 students participated. Students from 30 different San Mateo County schools have participated in the program, called democracyLive!
Twenty other states already allow 17-year-olds to either vote in their respective caucuses or primaries.
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