Coloradans are set to vote on Amendment V, which proposes that Colorado reduce the minimum age for running for the state Senate and House from 25 to 21.
Many supporters characterize the amendment as a way to pull more voices into the lawmaking process. However, as supporters and opponents made their arguments, the debate often centered around the lifestyles and habits of the millennial generation, or people who are currently 21 to 34 years old.
“It allows more young voices in our political process and allows people who are tax-paying citizens, and who could have already completed college, their first military service, or any other career work, to be influential in how laws are determined here in Colorado,” said Emma Donahue, chair of Colorado Young Democrats.
Amendment V began as a push from the Colorado Young Democrats to give younger adults more representation in the Colorado General Assembly.
Colorado’s Federation of Young Republicans joined soon after. The two groups worked with a team of sponsors, including Democratic Sen. Michael Merrifield, Republican Sen. Vicki Marble, Republican Rep. Kevin Van Winkle and Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton.
In a bipartisan effort, they succeeded in getting the bill, “Reduce Age Qualification for General Assembly,” introduced in the legislature in early April.
In order to be a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, the bill had to pass by a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the state legislature during one legislative session. The bill passed the Colorado Senate with a vote of 29-6 in April 2017. On May 8, a day before the end of the legislative session, the House passed the bill with a vote of 45-20.
The bill became Amendment V, and now it’s Colorado’s turn to weigh in.
On the ballot, Amendment V asks:
“Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a reduction in the age qualification for a member of the general assembly from twenty-five years to twenty-one years?”
A “yes” vote indicates that you do want to change the requirement so that people 21 and older can run for state Senate and House.
A “no” vote says that you want the age requirement to remain the same, meaning only Colorado residents 25 and older can serve in the General Assembly.
What do opponents say?
The amendment’s only registered opponent is Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, according to the Colorado Secretary of State Office.
“I think it’s a silly, politically correct gesture to curry favor to millennials,” Bruce said. “There’s no need for it, and people are just trying to show that they’re not old fogies.”
The age requirement has been in the law since the 1800s, he said, and “if you want to change the law you should have a good reason to change the law.”
Bruce argued: People who are 21 do not have sufficient life experience. Most of them don’t have a job and aren’t paying taxes. Since higher education takes four to six years to complete, these young adults haven’t experienced life.
As for 21-year-olds who went straight into the workforce after high school? “That’s fine, they’re already in the workforce,” he said. “People who are coddled by mommy and daddy are much less likely to have travelled the world and seen other cultures.
“That’s not who I want to have making important decisions.”
What do supporters say?
Two issue committees, Win the Fourth Colorado and Let Coloradans Serve, registered in support of Amendment V through the Colorado Secretary of State Office.
Young Democrats organized Let Coloradans Serve mostly to create Amendment V literature. Win the Fourth Colorado Issue Committee is tied to Win the Fourth Colorado, an independent expenditure committee that supports Democrats in Congressional District 4, currently represented by Ken Buck.
Donahue said the Young Democrats want more representation of younger people in the state legislature.The Colorado Independent reached out to both groups, but only received a response from the Colorado Young Democrats.
“Colorado is currently one of the only three states that has the House set at 25. All the other states have it set lower or have no limit,” she said. “We’re one of the few states that has it set as high for the Senate as well.”
Donahue wants to make the process open to everyone. To her, people 21 years old and older qualify because they are taxpaying citizens, have the right to vote, can serve in the military, buy lottery tickets and become homeowners.
“At the end of the day…these individuals still need to be elected,” Donahue said. “So voters get the chance to look at every candidate, determine if that’s the person they want to represent them, and then vote for them.”
New Era Colorado, a nonprofit organization that brings young people into politics, is another big supporter for Amendment V. It didn’t help push the bill through the legislature; however, it does actively support the measure through its campaigning projects.
New Era makes some of the same arguments as the Young Democrats, saying that Colorado is “behind the curve” because of its high age requirements for state office.
Charley Olena, advocacy director at New Era, said young people are already playing a leading role in shaping American debates around climate change, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and gun violence, she said.
People 34 and under make up 32 percent of our population in Colorado, but 3 percent of its state legislators, Olena said, citing statistics from the National Conference of State Legislators.
Regarding concerns about maturity, Olena argued: “If you’re mature enough to go through that process, to gain the support of your community, to raise the money that kind of things requires … then you are mature enough to be able to wade through the questions that are in front of our legislators every day.”
More counter arguments and counter-counter arguments
Anti Amendment V: The brain does not finish maturing until age 25, so younger people should not run.
Response: “It’s kind of an excuse that we see for devaluing young people’s voices in a lot of different ways,” Olena said.
Pro Amendment V: Millennials are underrepresented in the legislature, so they should run.
Response: “I think that’s a dumb argument. If you think that only someone like you can represent you, then only women can represent women, only orientals can represent orientals … ” Bruce told The Independent, before proceeding to cite more examples.
Anti Amendment V: Millennials aren’t taxpayers, don’t have jobs or own homes, so they shouldn’t run.
“A lot of people under 25 pay taxes and have some sort of job. Being a homeowner is not a requirement for serving for office, and I think we need more elected officials who understand renters’ issues here in Colorado,” Donahue said.