SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Should local school districts adopt an ordinance to grant allowance for students aged 16 and 17 to vote for their representative school district board members? A bill introduced during this legislative session addressed this very question.

Dhati Oommen, a 16-year-old student at West High School and Student Representative on the Salt Lake City School Board drafted H.B. 338 alongside the sponsoring lawmaker, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt City. She presented supporting arguments to the House Political Subdivisions Committee during their meeting last Wednesday and wowed every legislator in the room. 

Oommen argued that voter apathy and disengagement are still the leading factors of why young people fail to fill ballots or fail to register. She said for teenagers, school boards provide the greatest impact on young lives, more direct than perhaps any federal institution.

She went on to say that by encouraging students to vote in local school board elections, we will raise a generation of informed voters, as students are more in tune with their educational needs than anybody else. Oommen also mentioned that students will be able to see firsthand the impact of local votes and will continue to vote in local elections throughout their lifetimes.

The bill passed the committee with a 6-4 vote, but died on the House floor Tuesday afternoon. But Oommen said she is not discouraged and will return next session to push for the bill again.

Oommen joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion about supporting arguments for the bill.

Rep. Steve Christiansen, R-West Jordan, was one of the lawmakers who voted “no” in committee to advance the bill. He joined the discussion to discuss his concerns with the bill, which includes poor voter participation rates among youth Utahns, losing the value of the cherished right to vote, and repairing the foundation of civics education.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Oommen and Rep. Christiansen, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.