My interest in civic engagement started early. When your father is a high school government teacher and your mother enjoys a lively discussion at the dinner table, you learn early on that civic engagement and being an active participant in the political process gives you a voice in your local, state and national government. Even if your preferred candidate isn’t successful, your vote always counts.
As a senior in high school, I participated in the City of South San Francisco’s Youth Government Day program (which my father, Gene Mullin founded). This provided me with an opportunity to see first-hand the inner workings of local government. Later in life, as a member of the South San Francisco City Council, I participated in the program as an elected official and remember quite clearly the energy and interest shown by the students that shadowed me.
Now, as a member of the State Assembly, I am a proud to continue my advocacy for civic engagement and good government and have authored ACA 4, which would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections, provided they will be 18 by the time of the General Election. Once again, I have a connection with my father Gene Mullin, who served as a member of the State Assembly and authored similar legislation.
Studies show that voting is habit forming and I believe it’s a habit worth encouraging. Since young people typically have their first contact with the political process in their mandatory high school civics or government class, it’s the perfect time to engage them in the political process by making it possible for them to vote in the primaries.
ACA 4 is very specific. It only allows those 17 year-olds who will be 18 by the general election to vote in the corresponding primary. High school students are organizing at very high levels, with “March for our Lives” a perfect example of the passion and commitment that exists. These same individuals are volunteering for campaigns and becoming increasingly involved in a variety of significant social issues, so why wouldn’t we want them to channel that passion and energy into the primary voting booth?
While some may question the ability of young voters to cast a meaningful vote, research shows that 17 year olds are as informed and engaged as older voters. Young people are directly affected by issues like employment initiatives, affordable housing, and education funding. They have what I would call “skin in the game” on these and other issues and I believe we should be looking for ways to amplify their voices. By including them in the primary election process, we are complementing the high school civics/government education they are receiving while still in high school and we are empowering them to engage in what we hope will become a lifelong habit.
California has led the nation in critical programs related to voter registration and engagement. We have increased the ability for people to vote by mail, where every voter automatically receives a ballot with the postage paid and strengthened campaign ad funding disclosure.
With all of our leadership in the area of elections, it’s hard to believe that in 2019, we are behind 23 other states when it comes to this issue. ACA 4 is about getting more Californians involved in the political process regardless of their party affiliation. It’s not a partisan issue; it’s a civic engagement issue whose time has finally arrived.