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LA students have voice, now seek vote

Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Many of the new voters would be from communities who are historically disenfranchised from voting, said Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"The younger people are, the more likely they are to be black, brown and Asian," Diaz said.

Another barrier to voting for LAUSD families is immigration status -- many students are citizens themselves, but their parents are ineligible to vote. A measure like this would give those families a vote, advocates say. Okeke made that point during the meeting, but did not ask the board to consider offering voting rights in district elections to non-citizens, as San Francisco has done.

During his time on the board, and especially during the January teachers strike, Tyler believed that the interests of two warring powers who often fund elections -- the teachers union and charter school supporters -- get more attention than students.

It's not a coincidence that the younger generation skews progressive and that they are fighting for voting rights in this moment in history, Tyler said.

The last time the voting age changed nationally, from 21 to 18, was in 1971 when young people demanded the right to vote during the Vietnam War -- the justification then for many was that if they could sacrifice their lives for their country, they should be able to vote too.

 

"Today, if students are going to schools that are unsafe and under-resourced and are living lives that are shaped by the decisions of politicians that they don't agree with," Diaz said, "then they should very much have the opportunity for reform and redress."

And Tyler noted that L.A. Unified has considerable lobbying power as the second-largest school district in the United States -- student constituents with voting power can encourage district leaders to advocate for their interests nationally and statewide.

Opening school board elections to teens makes sense because students are more in tune than many adult voters to school needs, said Arianna Romero, 18, a senior at Mendez High School in Boyle Heights who rallied at the meeting Tuesday. Her peers are also more likely to get involved in voting in an election that directly affects them, she said, and that process will help prepare them for future elections.

Already, Romero and her friends are engaged in politics -- during the 2018 midterm election, she was 17 but helped her mom understand the propositions on the ballot. Romero follows her representatives on social media and learned about who was running and their policies from her Advanced Placement government teacher, among others.

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