Californians welcomed parolees to join them at the polls, but they rejected a measure that would have granted voting rights to teens just shy of adulthood.
Proposition 18, which would have let 17-year-old Californians vote in primaries if they turn 18 before the general election, failed Thursday. With more than 12 million votes tallied, 55% opposed it.
The proposition was defeated after voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a separate measure to restore voting rights to felons on parole.
Proposition 17 will give the vote to an estimated 50,000 former prisoners who supporters said have paid their debt to society and should be able to choose their representatives and shape the policies that affect their daily lives.
Advocates of youth voting said the change in law sought by Proposition 18 would have engaged young voters, while opponents said 17-year-olds weren’t adults and were likely to be swayed by their parents. At least 18 states and Washington, D.C., let people under 18 vote in certain circumstances.
Assemblymember Kevin Mullin, who supported the initiative, called the results disappointing.
“This is a critical time and I believe Prop. 18 would have helped strengthen our democracy and helped build lifelong habits of civic participation,” Mullin said in a statement. “I look forward to a future where Californians who will be 18 by the general election are allowed to vote in primary elections and I will continue to be an advocate for this change.”
Proponents said any chance to get people in the habit of voting should be encouraged. Besides, they said, young people whose birthdays fall between the primary and the general election are at an unfair disadvantage.
“Without full exposure to the election process, they are unable to submit their most educated vote in the general election,” said the California Association of Student Councils.
The Election Integrity Project California, the main opponent to Proposition 18, said 17-year-olds are still considered children under the law and have no business deciding elections.
“They are almost all still living at home and under the strong influence of their parents,” the group said. “This is not conducive to independent thought and voting without undue pressure from their immediate superiors.”
With most 17-year-olds still in high school, they also would be under the influence of their instructors, many of whom would push the agendas of powerful teachers unions, opponents said.
The California Republican Party had urged a “no” vote because otherwise “high school seniors would be voting for important tax measures only adults would pay.”
Proposition 17, which restored voting rights for felons on parole, soared ahead on Election Day. By Thursday it had secured nearly 59% of the vote after more than 12 million ballots were counted.
“This is a victory for democracy and justice,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, chair of the Yes On 17 campaign.
Jose Grano Gonzalez, a Los Angeles resident whose right to vote is now restored, thanked his fellow Californians “who used their voice, and voted to ensure that mine can be heard, too.”
“Our country boasts that its citizens have a direct, distinct voice in the conversation about its future,” he said in a statement. “Thanks to millions of California voters, today we are that much closer to achieving that reality.”
California felons who had completed their prison sentences had been long denied the right to vote until they finished parole. Yes On 17 said research has found that felons are less likely to reengage in criminal activity if they “feel that they are valued members of their community and that their voices matter and concerns are addressed.”
Among the measure’s opponents was Republican state Sen. Jim Nielsen, who said restoring rights early to felons would be a slap in the face to their victims, who should have the assurance that criminals are punished fully.
“The victims cannot so blithely put the crimes behind them,” Nielsen said. “The rest of society deserves to know that the just consequences of the sentence has been duly served.”