Menlo Students Start A Youth Political Campaign


Youth political campaign Vote16 SMC is holding its kickoff event for Monday, June 7, featuring two keynote speakers. Photo courtesy of Vikram Seshadri.

Madison Liu

Vote16 SMC, an initiative led by Menlo students, aims to lower the voting age in San Mateo County to 16 years of age. Founded in early 2021, the group’s goal is to increase political awareness and engagement in adolescents through voting reform.

“Vote16 SMC is a nonpartisan campaign to working to lower the voting age in San Mateo County and also to promote youth engagement and spread awareness of issues that affect youth from the [San Mateo] county,” junior Vikram Seshadri, who started Vote16 SMC, said. 

Vote16 SMC is the San Mateo County branch of the national Vote 16 USA campaign. Seshadri began the initiative because he was inspired by similar campaigns across the country. “My inspiration for Vote16 came in 2020 when I met a few people that were working on campaigns to lower the voting age in Oakland and San Francisco,” Seshadri said.

The organization’s mission is to “support efforts to lower the voting age on the local level, help start new local campaigns and elevate the issue’s prominence on a national level,” according to their website. Vote16USA helps students across the country establish and organize individual initiatives to lower the voting age in their area and has found success in multiple places. In November 2020, for example, Oakland voters passed Measure QQ, which was promoted by the Vote16 Oakland branch and gave 16-year-olds the right to vote in school board elections

Other local Vote16 campaigns include Palo Alto, San Francisco and Berkley, where Measure Y1 was passed in 2016, allowing 16-year-olds to vote in School Director elections. Washington, D.C.; Takoma Park, Md.; and Michigan are other national Vote16 campaigns that have worked to lower the voting age in their respective areas, with varying degrees of success.

There are several reasons the leaders of Vote16 believe in reduced voting ages, one being that 16-year-olds are both aware of government decisions and directly affected by them. “There are a lot of people our age who care about politics, are informed by all the news and know their opinions but aren’t able to have a say in government,” Vote16 SMC’s Head of Youth Engagement, junior Claire Lenden, said. Junior Oliver Barlow, a member of Vote16 SMC’s political advocacy team, believes voting is an issue of ethics. “I don’t think it’s ethical to deny the right to vote to people who are conscious of issues around them.”

Youth civic engagement can have a meaningful effect in communities, and Vote16 SMC aims to encourage student participation. “I’ve found that when I work with local government, I feel that my voice is represented. I just want all youth to be able to have an impact on the issues that affect them,” Seshadri said.

Voting and election participation is a habit developed by repetition, according to the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies. “It’s important to build the habit [of voting] as early as possible because the United States has one of the worst voter turnout rates when compared to other countries,” Seshadri said. “If we can start building that habit earlier that by the time people are 18 years old, they’ll have the habit formed and our democracy will be more representative.”

In order to promote their message and broaden their outreach, Vote16 SMC plans to use a variety of strategies, including collaborations with other organizations and other elected leaders. “We’re going to be in contact with local youth organizations to help get our message out there,” Barlow said. 

Social media is another way Vote16 SMC promotes its campaign. “Digital presence is one of the major ways we want to get the word out,” Seshadri said. “We just launched our official website, and our social media team is working to create posts and cast the net as far as we can.”

However, lowering the voting age cannot happen until at least 2022, when the proposed measure can be put onto the county ballot. “Until then, our focus is on spreading community awareness, making sure elected officials know we exist and also letting people know the reasons for lowering the voting age,” Seshadri said.