HOST INTRO: Turning 18 comes with a lot of milestones. You can join the Army. You can buy a lottery ticket. And, you can vote. But now, State Assemblyman Robert Carroll is introducing a bill that three high school students helped him write. It would register teenagers to vote in civics classes when they turn 17. Max Hauptman has more on New York’s politically engaged teenagers and what it would mean for them to vote.
Hauptman 1: Kenny Zheng (Zang) is 19, and grew up in Bensonhurst. He started volunteering in his neighborhood when he was a freshman in high school, and a few months ago he helped found Young Democrats of South Brooklyn.
ZHENG 1: The main basis behind it was that we wanted to bring people together and to raise awareness, especially for the younger generations, that politics is for everyone. (0:09)
Hauptman 2: Civic engagement’s important to the group, and Kenny wants to pass that down to kids who are sitting where he was just a few years ago. A sentiment that Susan Zhuong (Zu-Ong), another of the group’s founders, shares.
ZHUANG 1: We want to get kids involved in the community, be aware. Voting is very important for everyone—for every age, also. People think it’s adult-only. It’s not. (0:11)
Hauptman 3: Kenny Zheng (Zang) and Susan Zhuong (Zu-Ong) both say that teenagers follow politics more closely than you might think. After all, issues like immigration or education affect them just as much as adults.
Alex Koroknay-Palicz (Ko-rOCK-Nee Palace) is President of the National Youth Rights Association, and he says it’s critical that civic engagement begin before kids turn 18. Only about half of eligible 18-to-29 year olds voted last November.
KOROKNAY-PALICZ 1: People say all the time that kids get started on bad habits when they’re young because they’ll continue to do that throughout life, yet voting is a good habit that we want people to get started when they’re young. (0:11)
Hauptman 5: Koroknay-Palicz (Ko-rOCK-Nee Palace) says 18 is to old to start voting, because it’s when many teenagers are on their own for the first time. 16 or 17 would be better because teens are still rooted in family and community. In the U.S. only two small towns in Maryland have lowered the voting age to 16 for some local elections. But it’s happened in larger cities in Europe, like Hanover, Germany and Graz (GrAH-tz), Austria. And in all of those places, participation rates for 16 year olds have been higher than 18-to-24 year olds. Koroknay-Palicz says, if an uninformed 30 year old can vote, why not a smart 16 year old?
KOROKNAY-PALICZ 2: Adults are, unfortunately, notoriously ignorant. Nobody takes a maturity test or asks adults to take a civics test. (0:07)
Hauptman 6: Meanwhile, not far from the headquarters of Young Democrats of South Brooklyn…
GOLDBERG 1: I remember sitting there thinking, if an ordinary guy—well he’s not very ordinary because he’s rich—but politically speaking he’s pretty ordinary. If an ordinary guy like Donald Trump can get into office and try to help America, why can’t I start a club for teen Republicans in New York City? (0:17).
Hauptman 7: That’s 16 year old Batya (bAH-tya) Goldberg. Brooklyn Teen Republicans started this past January with five members, and it’s tripled in size since then. She’s been volunteering with local political campaigns for almost a year. Like a lot of teenagers she has some pretty strong opinions.
GOLDBERG 2: Teenagers my age are much more knowledgeable about politics and about the political process than they were in the past. This past election, teenagers were following the campaign, even if it was through Snapchat, or Instagram. (0:14)
Hauptman 8: Back at Young Democrats of South Brooklyn, how do Kenny Zheng (Zang) and Susan Zhuong (Zu-Ong) feel about getting the chance to vote at 17?
ZHENG 2: Especially with the younger group, they get excited at things that they can–like, voting would be exciting for them. (0:05)
ZHUANG 2: If they’re ready to vote, they’re ready to vote! (0:02)
Hauptman 9: Batya Goldberg’s eager to vote, but she says she’d like to see kids getting a better civics education before they cast a ballot. Carolyn O’Neil works with Generation Citizen. It provides civics classes to New York City public school students.
O’NEIL 1: Civics education really is lacking in our schools today, and I think that some of the impacts of that are that you citizens participating in really low numbers. (0:09)
Hauptman 11: But, when given the chance, O’Neil says teenagers are eager to get involved.
O’NEIL 2: When we get into the classroom with our students, they are so passionate talking about the real issues that are affecting them every day. (0:07)
Hauptman 12: Bayta Goldberg again…
GOLDBERG 3: I hope to be an inspiration for other teenagers to want to open clubs such as mine, and I hope that as time goes on more and more teenagers will find themselves involved in the political process and understanding it. (0:14)
Hauptman 13: Batya Goldberg won’t be able to vote for two more years. But that could change if Robert Carroll’s Youth Voter Act passes. He’s headed to Albany in May to lobby support for the bill. Max Hauptman, Columbia Radio News.