As a 17-year-old Hispanic girl, I was finding comfort in the idea of Senate Bill 8 — that is, until it got ruled out.

The proposal would have expanded and protected voting rights and give 16- and 17- year-olds the opportunity to vote in local elections. A later version of the bill struck that provision before the whole Voting Rights Act died on the Senate floor.

Being a child of immigrant parents, I can’t seem to forget the day Donald Trump became president. I was 12 then and didn’t know much about politics, but I remember the fear I felt when I overheard my parents talking about it. I specifically recall the proposal to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. My siblings and most of my cousins are here because of that program. Getting rid of it would affect not only my family but also thousands of other people who came to this country as children for a better life.

Despite being so young, I remember wishing I could vote. I think many teenagers go through similar experiences. We want to be able to speak up and have our voices heard. I want to be able to exercise the rights my parents aren’t able to have.

Most would say we don't have the maturity to vote, but it is teenagers who have led some of the most important modern movements, addressing important issues like climate change, gun violence and racism. Among these was the March for our Lives in 2018 advocating for gun control. It took place in Washington, D.C and was led by high school students who took a stance after a school shooting.

As teenagers, we can organize marches, start petitions and raise awareness. And we are — but it is up to the adults to listen to what we have to say and take action. It is frustrating knowing our voices and opinions are meaningless because of our age, even when we can be powerful. In Flint, Mich., for example, Mari Copeny, 14, spoke up about the high amounts of lead in the water in her city in a letter to then-President Barack Obama. She was ultimately able to get a donation of $100 million after the president surveyed the city. We can all speak up, but no change will be made if we are not heard by adults.

If the bill would have passed, I would have loved to have a say in the decisions the school board makes. As a student, this is something that directly affects me. It would be of great value to be able to voice my opinion on what is and what isn’t working in my education.

We are trusted to work, drive and pay taxes, yet we are not trusted to make the right decisions when it comes to voting. If we are constantly told we are not old enough to know about politics and have our own individual ideas and ideologies, we will most likely revert to what our parents and other adults that surround us want us to believe. It holds back a teenager's right to voice thoughts and develop viewpoints in fear of being shut down.

The 2020 election had the highest voter turnout of the 21st century at more than 66 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. I believe allowing 16-year-olds to vote in local elections would raise voter turnout near and far. If not everyone is voting, there is no actual basis for who our leaders should be.

From leading marches like Black Lives Matter to raising awareness through social media, teenagers have proved they are educated enough to vote. It’s time teenager's ideas get heard and validated.

Stephany Zambrano is a junior at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at stephany.zambrano24@gmail.com.

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