California State Senate Bill SCA 2: Lowering the Voting Age


Ellie Gladson-Pang, Staff Writer

“The question is, how much faith do we have in our young people?” said California State Senator Henry Stern, as he introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA) 2 in February of this year. SCA 2, a bill aiming to lower the voting age in California to 17, was brought to the floor on Feb. 16, and carried some major implications for the civic process with it. 

Senator Stern, a Democrat representing California District 27 (including parts of Los Angeles County), presented a strong argument for the bill, citing national issues pertaining to young people that he believes California can take early steps on: “The challenges [our youth] meet upon their entrance to adulthood are more pressing now than ever with rising gun violence rates, climate change looming, student debt increasing, civil rights movements mobilizing, the ongoing pandemic, and a host of other issues that disproportionately impact disenfranchised young people. We must seize the chance to offer them a well deserved opportunity to activate their voices on issues they did not create but are soon to inherit.”

“If we can ask 17-year-olds to join our military, and allow 16-year-olds to drive a car, then we must surely trust them to vote,” said Stern.

Stern makes a point that has historically been resonant in the United States; as ever burgeoning numbers of young men were conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War, this argument was invoked by anti-war protestors. Lyndon B. Johnson’s troop buildup efforts in 1965, including doubling the number drafted in the military from 17,000 to 35,000, incited the campaign that eventually succeeded in lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. 

This proposition is monumental; with voting rights extended a year younger than every other state’s minimum age, the state of California would rapidly experience an ideological frameshift and change political tides. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party overwhelmingly endorsed the bill, and it’s quickly gaining traction with voters. 

So what do high school students, especially 16 and 17-year-olds, need to know about SCA 2? For starters, it will mean earlier voter eligibility in California elections, and a broader reach for younger voices. Lowering the voting age to 17 will mean more support for communities, and education, among other issues individuals at this age face. Proponents of SCA 2 hope the bill will also serve to build a lifelong habit of voting in young people, creating long term implications for voter turnout and demographics.

In Austria, where the minimum voting age is 16, voter turnout is significantly higher among 16 and 17-year-olds than among 18 to 21-year-olds. A University of Utah study also found that young people are more likely to vote if they do so for the first time while still living with parents or guardians who vote. 

“I fully support lowering the voting age to 17,” said junior Addison Kwan. “Many young people are already civically engaged, and I think that their voices should be heard, as they are the future!”

SCA 2’s passing in the State Senate would mean Kwan and many of her classmates would soon be able to vote in state elections, including races for Governor, State Legislature, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, Controller, and State Superintendent of California. 

A robust body of evidence demonstrates that kids of this age have the necessary cognitive skills and civic knowledge to vote responsibly, but just require education and support from their school and family.

Though its implementation is not widespread, the idea of lowering the voting age is not entirely new. SCA 2 proposes lowering the overall voting age to 17, but in a few places a lesser degree of this is in practice. Already, in 22 states and the District of Columbia, 17-year-olds can already vote in primary elections if the voter turns 18 before the general election.

California’s Proposition 18, introduced in 2020 followed the same principle, but failed to pass by about 6%. Arguments in opposition included concerns over the minor status of 17-year-old voters and the possible influence their parents might hold over their voting patterns. The 11 other measures being voted on at the time may have overshadowed focus on the proposition, which also may have impacted its passage. With the approval of SCA 2, however, California can make up for this delay and become the first state to allow all 17-year-olds to vote in primary and general elections.

But make no mistake; this is only the beginning of a wider push to expand the accessibility of the voting process. Only 82% of California’s eligible voters were registered to do so in May of 2022, reflecting patterns of racial and economic inequality in the state. Six in ten undocumented adults are from Mexico and Central America, underlining a need for specialized support. The National Center for Education Statistics has presented data stating that the US Latinx student dropout rate is 65% higher than white students and almost 40% higher than black students. This is only one example of a correlation between voting demographics and indicators of available high school resources, clarifying the need for additional support in voter equity laws. Many Californians hope that SCA 2 will contribute to social change efforts, marking an early implementation of expansion of voter accessibility if it passes.

As of Mar. 1, the bill has been referred to the California Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, and the new possible voters in question await new information.

SCA 2 is certainly an impactful idea; engaging youth in the electoral process and civic education may help pave the way toward a stronger democracy, and Arcadia High School (AHS) students should keep an eye out for any new updates to come if they hope to share their voice in the democratic process sooner than expected.

“I think the bill would be a great idea, because then I would be allowed to vote in elections in my state just next year,” said sophomore Josh Lee.

“Age restrictions in America are pretty senseless. If kids can drive and enlist in the army at that age, I don’t see a reason why 17-year-olds can’t vote as long as they have developed opinions,” added sophomore Jake Chung, clearly mirroring Stern’s stance. 

In 1968, President Johnson called the effort “a national affirmation of faith in our youth.” Now, we have a unique opportunity to make the same choice.


Photo courtesy of FLICKR.COM