This California teenager is fighting to lower her city’s voting age to 16

As It Happens6:08This California teenager is fighting to lower her city’s voting age to 16

Ada Meghan-Thiel, 17, spends her free time knocking on doors and advocating for ballot initiatives that she is not allowed to vote on.

The high school student is a key supporter of Measure VY — also known as Vote 16 — a measure on Tuesday’s ballot that would lower the voting age from 18 to 16 in her hometown of Culver City, Calif.

If she succeeds, Culver City will become one of only a handful of US municipalities where people under the age of 18 can vote in city and school board elections. And Meghan-Thiel hopes it won’t be the last.

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“Culver City has the potential to be a national leader in youth civic engagement,” she said As It Happens Guest host Helen Mann. “Really, this is just the beginning of our teenagers gaining independence.”

The Case for Lowering the Voting Age

Meghan-Thiel says her main reasons for wanting to lower the voting age are threefold.

“For me, it comes down to encouraging civic engagement and really instilling the value of democratic participation in our youth,” she said.

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“And in doing this, it will raise a generation of habitual voters – so people who really understand the importance of having their say at the ballot box, and will be well-informed, lifelong voters in the future.

“And then the third reason is that we pay attention to our local elections, because politics is important, even if it’s not always fun to deal with.”

Teens are affected by government issues, so they should have a say in what’s going on.– Ada Meghan-Thiel, lower voting age advocate

She spends her free time going door to door pleading her case. Reaction, she says, has been divided, and she expects Tuesday’s vote to be close.

“Sometimes we get people who are really supportive of us, who are motivated by the work they’re doing and excited about their kids being able to vote when they turn 16,” she said.

“But we also get people who are more hesitant and say, ‘Oh, well, I wouldn’t have been a good voter when I was 16. So, I don’t think you’d be a good voter either.'”

Seven smiling teenagers stand next to a bulletin board with a sign that reads: "Support Measure VY to lower the voting age to 16 in Culver.  Everyone is welcome!  Every Wednesday @ Lunch."
Young people who are advocating to lower the voting age in Culver City, from left to right: Miles Griffin, Michelle Zhou, Meghan-Thiel, Julia Rottenberg, Caitlin Polesetsky, Lily Salkin and Ava France. (vote 16)

Meghan-Thiel doesn’t mind. She says that people’s views on the voting age are not as deeply intertwined as views on other issues, such as, for example, abortion. Often, she says, a 20-minute conversation with a skeptical voter is enough to either change their mind or at least open up.

‘These are not elections with training wheels’

But the proposal has strong opposition, and not everyone is so easily swayed.

Steven Gourley — a former Culver City mayor, councilor and school board president — is leading the charge against the measure.

“These are not elections with training wheels so your kids can ‘warm up’ for the big elections.” Gourley wrote on his Know On VY website.

Outline his opposition to the official cityHe wrote: “The proponents of this measure want you to allow 16-and-17-year-old voting in this election. What do they want you to allow next election? Their next goal is to allow people who don’t live. Culver City in Culver City to vote. After that, they plan to ask you to allow illegal aliens to vote in Culver City, as they currently can in New York City.”

Gourley did not respond to a request for comment As It Happens.

A teenage girl with long blonde hair sits at a desk and writes a note in Sharpie on a red doorknob that reads: "Yes to YV."
Meghan-Thiel writes personal notes on door hangers in support of Measure VY. (vote 16)

Meghan-Thiel says it’s Gourley’s right to oppose the measure, but she disagrees with his arguments.

When asked if teenagers are mature enough to vote, she points out A 2019 study published by the National Institutes of Health About Adolescent Cognitive Ability.

The researchers found that “cold cognition”—the ability to make rational, usually long-term decisions without being overly influenced by emotion—tends to reach its capacity by age 16.

In contrast, “hot cognition”—making choices momentarily in “charged situations where consideration is unlikely or difficult”—does not fully develop until early adulthood.

The study cited voting as an activity associated with cold knowledge, noting that the process gives young people enough time to make rational, informed decisions, potentially with guidance from adults.

Meghan-Thiel also pushed back against the notion that young people will only vote for progressive or left-wing causes and candidates.

“Teenagers are not just a voting bloc that only supports progressive causes,” she said.

In fact, she says even her colleagues are not united behind the Vote 16 measure.

“That’s another reason teens should be able to cast their ballots, because they’re thinking individually and uniquely about the political issues that affect them,” she said.

But even if teenagers influence the left more than older generations, she says that’s no reason to keep them out of the polls.

“We shouldn’t be trying to block people from voting because they’re worried they don’t support conservative councilors,” she said.

“Really, we need to make sure their policies are serving the whole city, including teenagers. Because teenagers are affected by government issues, they deserve a say in what’s going on.”


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