Vote-16

How a student led campaign is trying to lower the voting age for municipal elections in Palo Alto.

The Palo Alto Vote-16 movement is a group of students who want to lower the voting age to 16 for Palo Alto municipal elections. This would give high school students past the age of 16 the ability to vote on who gets elected to city council and the local measures that pass through that level of government.

The two students currently spearheading the movement are Paly seniors, Antonia Mou and Rachel Owens. They are carrying on the legacy of the founder of the movement Miranda Li, who graduated from Paly in 2020. 

The initial idea for Vote-16 was to lower the voting age for school board elections, and give students a say in the future of their education. However, when talking to the County Counsel they ran into legal issues. 

You can amend the city charter to lower the voting age, but school districts don’t have an equivalent.”

— Owens

“You can amend the city charter to lower the voting age, but school districts don’t have an equivalent,” Owens said. “In other places, what they try to do is amend the city charter to affect the school district, but school districts are entities of the state. And so, that’s not completely legal; if the school board were to challenge the city council’s decision, it could all fall apart.”

Instead they moved their efforts to change the city charter so that 16 year olds could vote for city counsel. “City Council, just seemed like the next logical step, because obviously, even though teens typically aren’t taxpayers, they’re still so directly affected by what the city council decides,” Mou said.

Logistically, to get this on the ballot for 2020 they would have had to get enough voter signatures to their measure on the ballot. However, with the Coronavirus pandemic at play they were not going to put people, and themselves, in danger by going door to door collecting signatures. 

Instead, they brought the idea to the council floor, where the city council could then vote to put the measure on the ballot. “We got 20 plus, or maybe 30 plus speakers to come to city council meetings, two days in a row,” Owens said. “We did like coordinated speeches where it went one after the other. They were unconvinced”

Despite the city council blocking the measure this year, the Vote-16 group is moving forward with their youth candidate forum, with most of the people running for Palo Alto City Council in attendance. Alongside them is an entourage of student publications and organizations cosponsoring the event. 

“[The forum is on] Tuesday, October 13, from 6:00 to 7:30pm. We’re trying to keep it pretty short, like an hour and a half,” Owens said.  “It’s going to be a lot to get through because there are 10 candidates, and we want to have them answer as many things as we can.”

Vote-16 is taking questions submitted by their cosponsors and the community to compile the questions about the candidates. Along with some long answer questions there will be a lighting round of questions where candidates will get a yes or no answer along with a sentence of justification. 

I think 16 year olds should vote because they are voting for their future.”

— Mou

The future of Vote-16 is just around the corner, and hopefully they will get the measure on the 2022 ballot and maybe even have an upcoming state wide measure. “We are also thinking about pursuing a statewide bill that would allow school districts to opt into lowering the voting ages,” Owens said. “If we change the structure on a statewide level, it would be possible locally.”

The takeaway from the vote-16 movement is summed up best by Mou. “I think 16 year olds should vote because they are voting for their future.”