In March of this year, the Culver City Council directed staff to develop language for a November ballot measure that would let voters determine whether to lower the voting age in municipal and school board elections to 16.
On Monday, June 6, the council met to discuss approval of the proposed ballot language, a question to the voters that reads thusly:
“Shall the measure amending the City Charter of the City of Culver City to allow Culver City residents aged 16 and 17, who are otherwise eligible to vote under state and local law, to vote on City and School District candidates and ballot measures, provided that each legislative body has approved budgetary funds and determined logistical systems are in place, and that inclusion would not prevent consolidation of City or School District elections with county elections, be adopted?”
Public comments at the meeting reflected a lot of opposition to the measure. Resident Ron Ostrin called in to say the proposal is, “part in parcel of the exclusionary politics that has taken over Culver City.” He added, “Our city is being ruined by extreme progressive policies.”
Several speakers were upset that the item was deemed a consent item on the agenda, and felt it should have been a fully agendized item for a thorough discussion.
“Regardless of how you feel about 16-year-olds being able to vote…you’re doing this improperly. It’s wrong. It’s the wrong way to do it. You did not vote on this,” complained resident Jeannine Wisnosky, who was referring to the motion that did pass at the council’s March 28 meeting. Asking that they pull the item from the agenda, she added, “Act in good faith for the people you represent.”
Speakers Bryan Sanders and Cindy Bailey were both concerned with public notification on the measure, opting for tangible proof through paper mailers that folks can’t miss in their email inbox.
Resident Kelli Estes complained, “It’s another undefined, reoccurring cost.”
But not everyone was in opposition. Student Ada Meighan-Theil, who was present in council chambers, claimed there had been plenty of public discussion of the concept. “Vote 16 has been at so many meetings talking about this. We’ve been agendized before,” she said. “We recently had a discussion with the school board; we were agendized at one of their meetings a couple weeks ago.” She also added, “Part of democracy is getting more people involved,” and later, “Political involvement is a learned behavior. Culver City’s youth will be better served if we have ample opportunity to practice our involvement in democracy from an early age.”
Celeste Nunez, now 18, called into the proceedings in favor of the measure. She says she has been advocating for Vote 16 since she was 14 years old and wishes she had this opportunity at 16. “There are a lot of things you can start doing at 16,” she said. “You can start getting a job, filing your taxes, you can even get emancipated.”
When the council weighed in, councilmember Yasmine-Imani McMorrin complimented the students and Vote 16 activists. “I believe these young folks have really done extensive work over a number of years to allow our community to have a say on whether this should happen,” she said. She also thanked the “young voices” that spoke up at the meeting, saying, “I really appreciate your advocacy,” and adding support for them given their voices are often not welcome in the public sphere. “People will attack your intelligence, your value, and attempt to discredit you. It is an unfortunate part of this politics game, but I see you, and I’m grateful that you’re here and are willing to be a part of it because you believe in the good.”
Councilmember Göran Eriksson didn’t think the council was prepared enough to move forward, saying, “We haven’t figured out the financial implications or anything there.” He added, “If we ever figure out the logistics then maybe we can do this,” but ultimately declared the measure, “not ready.”
Councilmember Alex Fisch conceded the city “needs to get outreach right,” but overall didn’t think critics brought the goods. He said, “I didn’t hear any criticism of the charter amendment language. People’s critical comments completely omitted the actual agenda item.” Fisch added, “I am utterly unconvinced by the argument that we should protect already enfranchised adult voters from the question of whether 16 and 17-year-olds should vote.”
Vice Mayor Albert Vera made clear he did previously vote in favor of the idea that the community weigh in on the question, reserving his opposition to this particular motion. “We as a council shouldn’t make those decisions in a bubble up here on the dais. We should send it out to the community and let the voters vote on it.” He also expressed concern with Culver City Unified School District being folded into the measure. “We failed. We failed on outreach to the community to get their input. I think this is a half-baked idea.”
“I’m still very much in favor of this motion,” declared Mayor Daniel Lee. “I think allowing 16-year-olds to vote actually gives them a way to voice their concerns more pointedly.”
The ballot language was adopted on a 3-2 vote, with Lee, Fisch, and McMorrin in favor.
The Culver City Unified School District’s support is contingent on the results of tonight’s meeting. They will be ratifying approval of the measure at their June 28 meeting.