Woodlake High School graduate Jessica Reynoso encourages Woodlake to place measure on 2020 ballot allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections
By Nancy Vigran
Reporting for the Sun-Gazette
WOODLAKE – When politicos think of a young voting population they don’t think high school. But one Woodlake High School graduate is.
In 2016, Berkeley voters passed Measure Y1 allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for members of the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Directors. Requiring a simple majority, the measure garnered 70.31%.
That was the year Jessica Reynoso graduated from Woodlake High and started her studies at Stanford University. Now, she would like to see a similar measure on their city’s 2020 ballot.
This summer Reynoso was looking for ways to put her time to good use. She put in a call to ACT for Women and Girls, with whom she had worked while in high school. They shared some of their plans for voter engagement and the younger voting concept of Berkeley.
Reynoso was all in and wanting to take it a step further. She feels Woodlake 16- and 17-year-olds should not only be able to vote in School District Board elections, but for City Council, as well. Several Maryland cities have passed such ordinances. Woodlake could be the first in California.
“I’m really excited about the conversations we’ve been having,” Reynoso said.
She pointed to the fact of the revenues the City has gained through taxation of marijuana sales, and said she feels younger residents should have a say in where that income is spent.
“If you lower the voting age, it also leads to younger people becoming habitual voters,” she said. “And, that is powerful.”
Ten 16- and 17-year-olds have joined Reynoso’s Jovenes Adelante ACTion Team. The group meets Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Woodlake Community Center. She’d like to see that number double within the next month.
“I want this [the movement] to be youth-led,” she said.
Not only are those involved in learning about civics, but they’re also gaining pubic speaking skills and more.
While the cost of potential ballot changes to include youth voting for local matters has not yet locally been addressed, an impartial analysis by Berkeley’s city attorney regarding its Measure Y1 stated:
First, no City funds could be used for any expenses related to the ordinance. Second, such voting would have to be technically workable. Third, youth voting could not prevent consolidation of municipal elections with county elections. Fourth, such voting could not result in any increased election costs to the City.
This week the Woodlake ACTion Team will begin canvassing the city, weekdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They plan on knocking on every door and sharing their plan, and they are gathering signatures to back it up.
Reynoso addressed the maturity of 16- and 17-year-olds in Woodlake.
“Many have had to take on the role of translator,” she said of those with a parent or two speaking limited, or no English. “Many have had to care for their younger brothers and sisters while their parents work. They have had to take on a role many young people don’t, and have had to grow up a lot earlier.”
Reynoso further noted due to their child care services needed at home, some teens have been unable to attend the Jovenes Adelante ACTion Team meetings, but still want to be involved.
“I see a lot of passion in them,” she said. “They are very much informed.”
Individuals are encouraged to join the team meetings on Wednesdays through August. For more information, reach out to Jessica at [email protected].
Our goal is to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections in Woodlake. I strongly believe our young people care deeply about our community and that they are experts on issues that impact them directly like safety, education, and immigration. In the program, participants will learn more about voting rights and how Woodlake has been impacted by the marijuana industry (about the tax revenue and where the money is going), while also gaining public speaking skills. The program will run for seven weeks.
We are looking specifically for youth between the ages of 15 to 17 but are open to all! If you think your child might be interested, please share this information with them; if you are interested in joining our campaign as an adult ally, please reach out to me directly as there are many ways for parents to be involved! Our first meeting is this Wednesday, July 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Woodlake Community Center in the Pine Room.