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California Ponders Letting 14-year-olds Vote

Would apply only to state elections 

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If 71-year-old State Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) has his way, California would become the first state in the nation to open its voting booths to teenagers as young as 14.

Under a proposed amendment to the state's already massive constitution, Vasconcellos' mathematically-intensive proposal would grant 17-year-olds a full vote, 16-year-olds a half vote and 14-year-old a quarter vote in state elections beginning in 2006. California teens would not be eligible to vote in U.S. presidential or congressional elections, a move that would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There is precedent for Vasconcellos' proposal in other nations. Austria, Germany and Israel allow teens as young as 16 to vote in some local elections. The United States lowered its national voting age to 18 with ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1977.

Vasconcellos' idea, formally called "Training Wheels for Citizenship," has generated little but chuckles from his Republican colleagues, one of whom called it "the nuttiest idea I've ever heard."

Republican Assemblyman Ray Haynes of Murrieta is quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as saying, "There's a reason why 14-year-olds and 16-year-olds don't vote. They are not adults. They are not mature enough. They are easily deceived by political charlatans."

Vasconcellos, however defended his idea saying, "When we gave the vote to those who didn't own property, then to women, then to persons of all colors, we added to the richness of our democratic dialogue and our own nation's integrity and its model for the world. People who are given opportunity when it counts often live up to it."

As to the reason for giving the teens only a half or quarter vote, instead of a full vote, Vasconcellos told the San Jose Mercury News that the move was "strategic." "If I said 16 full and 14 full, I think it wouldn't have much legs." But he continued, "In my heart I think 16-year-olds should be given a full vote."

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