A stack of "register to vote" pamphlets.
16 and 17-year-olds in Oakland and Berkeley could cast their first votes in the 2024 school board races. Credit: Amir Aziz

Three years after Oakland voters approved a measure lowering the voting age to 16 for school board elections, not a single vote has been cast by someone under 18. That could change in 2024, with Alameda County and city officials now moving forward with plans to implement the law.

Ever since Measure QQ passed with the support of two-thirds of voters in 2020, a coalition of youth organizations backing the measure has been pressuring the Alameda County Registrar of Voters to make changes to its electoral system required to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in their district’s school board races, but to no avail. Youth organizers were disappointed when the changes weren’t made for them to vote in the 2022 school board races

Berkeley, whose elections are also governed by the Alameda County registrar, passed a similar measure in 2016 that also hasn’t yet been put in effect. 

In addition to updating its voter databases, the county registrar will need to print separate ballots for the single school board races that the younger voters are eligible for. There are also privacy concerns: Voter information is public, and there are questions around how to preserve privacy for minors.

Oakland Unified School District Director Sam Davis, who supports the change, said the intent of such measures is to get young people accustomed to voting earlier, encourage them to be more civically engaged, and allow them to have a voice in electing the people whose decisions directly impact them. 

“If you know any 16- and 17-year-olds, they have strong opinions,” Davis told The Oaklandside. “They know a lot about the changes they want to see in the world and I think it’s a great age to get young people involved in voting.”

In June, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors directed the registrar to implement both Oakland’s Measure QQ and Berkeley’s Measure Y1 by the November 2024 general election—a step that the youth vote coalition sees as progress.

“Since the electorate approved these two matters in these two cities, we need to ensure the will of the voters is carried out,” said Board President Nate Miley during the supervisors’ June 6 meeting. 

Next year, Oakland school board elections will be held in Districts 1, 3, 5, and 7.

OUSD has hired two consultants, Ross Underwood and Deborah Seiler, to help implement the youth vote. Underwood is an elections software specialist and former registrar of voters in Monterey County, and Seiler previously served as registrar in San Diego County. 

Next, the Oakland and Berkeley city councils and school boards must each pass resolutions detailing how voting will work for young people and who exactly is eligible, Davis said.

“There’s a lot of technical pieces to be figured out but I think those two consultants are really helping a lot, since they were registrars in other counties and they understand the issues themselves,” Davis said.

While they haven’t been able to cast a vote yet, youth in Oakland have been pursuing other ways to keep themselves and their peers civically engaged. OUSD’s All City Council and the youth vote coalition are planning to host a candidate forum at Fremont High School in October for the special election taking place in November to fill the vacant school board seat in District 5. All City Council, the school district’s student government association, will also endorse a candidate through a mock youth vote.

Last year, Oakland students held a school board candidates’ forum at Fremont High School, where they urged voters to keep students’ perspectives in mind. Several OUSD students involved with the youth vote campaign also successfully pursued the “seal of civic engagement,” a state commendation for graduating seniors who meet specific criteria, like participating in a civics project that positively impacts their school or community. Twenty-six OUSD seniors received the seal on their diplomas in the 2022-2023 school year. 

In 2022, the OUSD board approved a resolution to support Measure QQ by establishing High School Voter Education Weeks at OUSD schools in September and April, introducing a civic engagement curriculum, and helping students with pre-registering to vote on campuses.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.