Calif. Lawmaker Champions Teen Suffrage Movement

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 9, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are the kids in America. Everybody listen to the music go round.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Teenagers get to vote for things like student council treasurer and homecoming king. What if we let kids help pick the state's governor or maybe even the president of the United States? Heather Nauert has more on the teenage suffrage (search) movement.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. A few state legislatures in California say kids as young as 14 years old should be allowed to vote. This week legislatures introduced a bill giving 14-year-olds a quarter of a vote and 16-year-olds a half a vote. Earlier today, I spoke with state Sen. John Vasconcellos (search), the bill 's sponsor. I asked, why should teenagers be allowed to vote? And that's the big question?


CALIF. STATE SEN. JOHN VASCONCELLOS: Well, the American tradition is self-determination. Young people today are so much more informed, and educated and sophisticated than they were in my time. But I think giving them some say on a graduated basis helps prepare them to become full-fledged voting adults at 18.

NAUERT: How does a 14-year-old kid who is still living at home with his or her parents who can't even legally hold down a job have the maturity to make a kind of responsible vote?

VASCONCELLOS: Well, I have a 13-year-old. I would have you meet you would in a minute know that she could do this with a profound integrity and intuition. But the proposal is twofold. It lowers the voting age to 16, at which age kids drive cars, get jobs and pay taxes. And then it cuts in half. And it lowers it to 14 as they start high school, it cuts 1/4. And the effort is to get young people involved so we don't lose them. The voting rates of Americans is the lowest in the whole world, I think. And if students as they start high school get real civics classes and learn gradually to get more and more responsibility, they become better voters and better citizens.

NAUERT: Can you cite any specific piece of evidence that actually would illustrate or would prove that kids that young, 14, 15, that's an awfully young age, that they actually have enough intellectual acumen to be able to select candidates, to figure out the issues, to pick people to vote for or items to vote for that could influence world events?

VASCONCELLOS: You know, we are talking about California voting, it's not likely to influence world events directly. But here are people 20, 30, 40 or 70 like me who aren't any more wise, or any more judicious or any better informed than the young people today in California.

NAUERT: Go ahead.

VASCONCELLOS: The blanket disallowance, they are all kids and they don't count, that's why they don't stay around and be part of our society. And I find it when I give more responsibility to young people, they live up to it. That's true of all of us as human beings. To include people, give them responsibility, helps them grow responsible. To be private, to hold your kid's hand to cross the street until he is 18, you are never going to learn to walk. We have apprentice plumbers, apprentice doctors, apprentice journalists, why not apprentice and voters who are gradually built into system and get some experience and become serious about what we are doing.

NAUERT: Now, so many of us have young nieces or sons and daughters, like you mentioned yourself, and you talk to kids and so often they will parrot back whatever repeat to them. Aren't you just giving classrooms, teachers, people who are very politically motivated, a chance to give kids an extra vote on the adult's behalf?

VASCONCELLOS: Well, it's only a partial vote. I have heard two concerns in the last 24 hours. One, parents who have too much influence and one teachers who have too much influence. So it can't be both. Maybe it's a balance. But I find today's young people are - we had six of them, eight of them yesterday who spoke at our press conference and those eight could vote tomorrow. And their votes would be judicious, mature, thoughtful, not fully informed, not fully mature. That's why you have a partial vote for them.

NAUERT: And what kinds of things are kids telling you they are interested in?

VASCONCELLOS: Interested in good schools. Interested in clean air. Interested in knowing what's going on in society. Interested in jobs, going to college some day. I think a whole range of things. Those are the ones that are probably the most on the minds of young people.

NAUERT: All right, California state Senator John Vasconcellos, thank you so much.

And there are a few other states that are looking at doing the exact same thing as he is doing or trying to do in California — John.

GIBSON: With any luck, a year from now we'll look back on this and laugh. Heather Nauert, thanks a lot.

NAUERT: Right.

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