Editorial: Candidates of all ages deserve place on the ballot

California is among the states that have taken the progressive step of allowing 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. Among other advantages, that ensures that teenagers who turn 18 shortly before an election will still be eligible to vote, even if they aren’t 18 by the voter registration deadline. That’s eminently fair.

Unfortunately, that same principle does not apply to young people interested in vying for elected office.

Case in point: Cal Poly student Kenneth Block, an 18-year-old who ran as a write-in candidate for Atascadero school board.

Block sought to file as a regular candidate, but because he wasn’t 18 by the August registration deadline for political candidates, under the state Elections Code he was not eligible to have his name printed on the ballot. He barely even made the deadline to register as a write-in candidate.

It’s a shame that Block’s candidacy did not have more exposure.

We found him to be articulate and intelligent, and he had a wealth of firsthand knowledge about the school system, having recently graduated from Atascadero High. He was easily one of the strongest of the nonincumbent candidates.

While we recognized that Block faced a hurdle as a write-in candidate, we gave him our endorsement — in part because we believed his candidacy could inspire greater participation by a new generation of voters.

How did Block fare?

The post-election tally showed there were 852 write-in votes in the Atascadero school board race — 2.66 percent of the total votes cast in that race.

The county Elections Office doesn’t yet have a breakdown of who earned those write-in votes, but confirmed that Block’s name is showing up in the count.

Even if all those write-in votes were for Block, 2.66 percent is hardly significant, though it is worth noting that write-in votes in most other local races were well below 1 percent.

We don’t doubt that a candidate as young as Block would have been a long shot under the best of circumstances. But not having his name on the ballot — or having the opportunity to submit a candidate’s statement for the voter’s guide — didn’t help his cause.

Also, because his name did not show up on the list of regular candidates, he may have been inadvertently omitted from some events, such as endorsement interviews and candidates forums. It’s too late to change the rules for Block, but we strongly urge lawmakers — especially our local legislators, state Sen. Sam Blakeslee and Assemblyman-Elect Katcho Achadjian — to consider revising the state Elections Code to remove this stumbling block to candidacy.

We recognize that it’s going to be tough for any 18-year-old, no matter how accomplished, to win an election.

But politics isn’t just about winning — it’s also about learning the process, making contacts, articulating positions and inspiring constituents who may feel left out of a political system that often seems to be run by a small, select group of established movers and shakers.

We don’t believe any qualified candidates — no matter how young or inexperienced — should be arbitrarily denied the opportunity to run for office because their birthdays fall a month or two shy of a deadline.

As long as candidates meet age requirements by Election Day, we see no good reason why they should not have a place on the ballot.