By Jessica Koslow

Vote16CulverCity organizers Sarah Hager (left), Piper Samuels
and Rebecca Rottenberg snapped a photo with Culver City Councilman Daniel Lee at last month’s Climate Strike protest in downtown Los Angeles

An organized group of 16- and 17-year-olds wants the right to vote in local elections. That’s the push behind the national campaign Vote16USA, which aims to raise awareness for this issue around the country.

Wait — don’t teens get in more car accidents? Aren’t they apathetic? These are the kinds of questions that Vote16CulverCity organizers Piper Samuels, Rebecca Rottenberg and Sarah Hager hear all the time, and a lot of the effort that goes into their campaign is to refute negative stereotypes about teens.

The three Culver City High School students are at the Veterans Memorial Building on a Wednesday night in mid-August to ask the Culver City Democratic Club for an endorsement. They hope to build support for a proposed 2020 city ballot measure that would ask Culver City voters to lower the voting age to 16 for future city council elections.

And they’re making a very good case to this crowd of more than 60 club members, each of whom have chosen to commit at least two hours on a weeknight to staying engaged in local politics. Members of the Culver City Democratic Club take their individual roles in democracy very seriously, and it shows. They listen intently as the young women take turns speaking, each making specific arguments.

Hager starts off with science: There are two main types of thinking, hot and cold cognition. While hot cognition isn’t developed until age 25 (this results in the higher rate of teen car accidents), cold cognition — which relates to long-term decision-making — is developed at age 16.

The women point out that Vote16USA is supported by a number of American lawmakers, and list off other countries with lower voting ages. In two Maryland cities that have lowered the voting age to 16, voter turnout among 16- and 17-year olds exceeded all other age groups, they tell the crowd. And they emphasize studies that show voters in one election are 50% more likely to vote in the next. Voting becomes a habit, and they want local teens to get hooked while they’re young.

“We’re trying to create lifetime habitual voters,” Hager tells The Argonaut.

During the Q&A segment of their presentation, one man admits he didn’t want to endorse their group, but, to his surprise, he’s now a believer. And as it turns out, so is the entire club, which votes unanimously to endorse Vote16CulverCity.

After all, local issues such as emergency services, after-school programs and maintenance of public parks directly impact teens, argues Samuels. She adds that allowing teens to vote would invigorate high school civics programs and, if anyone is worried that knuckleheads will vote, Samuels assures that this initiative is not for them — it’s for teens like Samuels, Rottenberg and Hager, who take civic responsibility seriously.

“I don’t think teens are apathetic,” adds Samuels. “I think they don’t see an outlet with which to express their frustrations.”

Adding a bit of humor, Hager argues that “the badge of stupidity is not worn by teenagers, but humanity as a whole,” and proceeds to cite outrageous quotes from the likes of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Richard Nixon and President George W. Bush.

Fast-forward to October, and Culver City officials are researching the city charter ahead of a future city council vote about whether to put the question to voters on the November 2020 ballot.

In the meantime, Vote16CulverCity organizers will lead a public town hall for Culver City residents on Saturday, Oct. 27, at The Wende Museum. The main objective is to speak to voters face-to-face, as “political discussion online tends to be incredibly surface-level,” says Hager. Sorrento Italian Market, she adds, is showing its support for teen civic engagement by bringing some of their famous deli sandwiches.

Last year voters in Berkeley passed a measure to lower the voting age in local schoolboard elections to 16; Vote16CulverCity is targeting city elections because of differences in the municipal and school board charters, according to Hager.

Vote16CulverCity organizers are being mentored by Dr. Kelly Kent, president of the Culver City Unified School District Board of Education, who sat proudly in the audience during their presentation to the Culver City Democratic Club. She argues that well-informed students can offer forward-thinking insight into future impacts of decisions that may not occur to adult decision-makers.

“I’m working diligently on better engaging authentic student voices in policymaking decisions that so heavily impact the lives of students,” says Kent. “This is an important opportunity to do exactly that.”

The Vote16CulverCity town hall is from 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at The Wende Museum, 10808 Culver Blvd., Culver City. Visit vote16culvercity.org for more information.

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