In an election when the youth vote has mattered more than ever before, a referendum on this year’s state ballot could get a younger generation into political office by lowering the age requirement for public office in Colorado.
Referendum L, voted onto the ballot by the state legislature, aims to lower the age requirement for eligibility to serve in the Colorado General Assembly from 25 to 21.
Proponents argue that this will open access to office and increase future voter turnout in younger generations.
“This has the potential to increase voter turnout if younger generations see their peers running for office,” said Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.
“I am very supportive of this amendment . I think there are a lot of bright 21-year-olds out there,” he said.
But some opponents argue that such youth don’t have the level of life experience that should be required of those who make laws for Coloradans.
Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said he feels that 25 is lowest the age limit should go.
“I don’t think voter turnout should be a benchmark for deciding this issue,” he said. “We’ve had examples with young lawmakers who have run into personal problems because of their age.”
Schultheis said that he estimates the average age of public officials in Colorado to be in the high 30s.
“Officials should have some significant life experience before they start making laws for others,” he said.
Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, who sponsored the amendment, said age doesn’t matter as much as political common sense in an election.
“It makes no sense that an adult at 21 can’t run for office. Just because you’re on the ballot doesn’t mean you’ll be elected. I’m more concerned about people who are in office now,” he said.
But John Straayer, a political science professor at CSU, said that if passed, the amendment would likely have a limited affect.
“I’m skeptical to whether or not this will have a lot of consequences,” he said. “It’s a great idea to open up the office, but will there be a lot of takers? Probably not.”
Straayer said it takes political connections to get involved in politics, and it takes time to get “plugged into” political parties.
“It’s a perfectly good idea, but I wouldn’t worry about any significant changes. We’re not likely to have 100 21-year-olds running the office . there might be a sprinkling, but I’m not worried about it,” he said.
But Johnson disagreed with Straayer on the notion that it takes a lot of connections to run for office.
“Colorado has a very open political system. It didn’t take me very much to get on the ballot,” he said. “It’s crazy how the system works now, denying adults the right to run for office in indefensible.”
Johnson argued that youth need to be in office to understand issues that affect Colorado’s youth, citing textbook prices as an example.
“The legislature should be reflective of the people of Colorado,” he said. “That simply isn’t happening.”
Taylor Smoot, 22-year-old president of Associated Students of CSU, said that he, not speaking for ASCSU, personally supports the amendment.
“I don’t think age determines eligibility for office . The voters are smart enough to recognize who they want in office, regardless of age. That decision should be based on the content of their character and policy,” he said.
Senior Reporter Trevor Simonton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.