Simon Salinas

Simon Salinas.

Last year, County Supervisor Luis Alejo and now-retired county supervisor Simon Salinas had a question: Should younger people be able to vote? They asked county staffers to investigate the feasibility of lowering the voting age locally from 18 to 16

The question instantly became a lightning rod. It provoked a Carmel resident, Peter Channing Wells, to call both Alejo and Salinas and leave them hateful, threatening voicemails, suggesting they "go back to Mexico" (both men were born in the United States) and suggesting they should be shot. 

Wells eventually agreed to a plea deal, entering a plea of no contest to two misdemeanor charges of making annoying phone calls; he agreed to serve three years on probation, do 50 hours of community service and pay $3,000 to the local chapter of the NAACP.

With that criminal chapter behind us, and Salinas since retired, the question remained: Can, and should, Monterey County lower the voting age to 16? 

The answer to the first part, according to an analysis by Registrar of Voters Claudio Valenzuela, is no: It would be unconstitutional to do so, Valenzuela found. 

(Since 2016, when California started allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister—meaning they will be automatically registered to vote at age 18—nearly 317,000 teens have done so. In Monterey County, 1,904 16- and 17-year-olds are pre-registered.)

The County Board of Supervisors considered a different alternative on May 14: Should they approve a non-binding resolution urging the state of California to lower the voting age to 16? 

Still a lightning rod? Yes.

Members of the public turned out in force to urge the supervisors not to approve the largely symbolic resolution, making the case that 16-year-olds should not be empowered with adult decision-making capabilities. 

David Mack of Salinas spoke first during public comment, noting that 16-year-olds lack a great many rights: They cannot serve in the military, get married, or consume alcohol, cannabis or tobacco.

Subsequent speakers echoed that sentiment and added to the list. LisAnne Sawhney, who ran unsuccessfully for Seaside mayor last year, also spoke out against the resolution. She said she rescheduled her whole day in order to appear to speak on the issue. She noted that she'd posted an article about brain development (which scientists generally agree continues up until age 25) on Facebook that morning, which had over 20 "likes" by 9am. She encouraged instead investing in a civics education program for youth. 

Other speakers accused the supervisors of political pandering, trying to get support from younger constituents. 

Several parents spoke out saying they would not trust their teenagers to make major decisions. 

"If you have children at home, do they make decisions for the household? I would not trust my 16-year-old to make decisions for my household," said Lisa King. "Most 16-year-olds don't think past the video game they're going to play that night when they get out of school."

The supervisors had once before voted 3-2 against the resolution, but Supervisor Chris Lopez—formerly Simon Salinas' chief of staff, who ran successfully to take his boss' seat—requested they revisit the resolution. 

That's because Salinas called him and asked him to reconsider. Lopez said he spent the weekend calling constituents, trying to understand their concerns. He said because it was symbolic, and wouldn't implement an immediate and tangible change, he would support it.

With Lopez flipping to support it (along with Alejo and Supervisor Jane Parker), they approved the non-binding resolution 3-2. 

If you're older than 18, whether or not you like the resolution here's an idea to make yourself heard: vote.

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