New Era Colorado, an organization devoted to boosting political participation by young people, is endorsing a proposal to lower the minimum age requirement to serve in the General Assembly from 25 to 21, its executive director told The Colorado Statesman.
“New Era believes that young people deserve a seat at the table — and that includes in the Legislature, where countless issues that impact young people immediately and impact our futures are debated every day,” said Lizzy Stephan, who runs New Era Colorado Foundation and the New Era Colorado Action Fund.
A bipartisan group of legislators wants to refer a constitutional measure to state voters on next year’s ballot asking whether to lower the age, which has been set since Colorado ratified its state constitution in 1876.
The prime sponsors of Senate Concurrent Resolution 17-001 are state Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, Senate Majority Caucus Chair Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, and state Reps. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, and Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs. The legislation is scheduled for its first hearing Wednesday afternoon before the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
The endorsement by New Era isn’t a surprise — in 2007, the group was the only organization to testify in support of nearly identical legislation approved by the Legislature. (While lawmakers sent the constitutional amendment to the 2008 Colorado ballot, voters rejected the measure by 7 points.)
Stephan suggested that the time has come to lower Colorado’s age requirement, which ranks with just two other states — Utah and Arizona — as the highest minimum in the country. (Some legislatures set a higher requirement for serving in the state Senate but have a lower minimum age for House members.)
“Colorado’s young voters have been showing up at increasing rates in midterms and presidential elections, and now vote at some of the highest rates amongst young voters in the entire country,” Stephan said. “And young people across this country are already leading: they’re the ideas, the energy and the leadership of many major social movements across the country. Plus, we saw in the presidential primary what power young people have to set the terms of the debate on various issues on the national stage.”
She said the measure would send an important message to a generation that already constitutes the largest share of Colorado voters.
“We need more young people to be a part of these conversations, period—as advocates, as voters, and yes, as legislators inside the building as well. Lowering the required age for the legislature sends a message to young people across Colorado: we value your input, your perspective is missing from the conversation, so if you’re ready to lead, throw your hat into the ring,” Stephan said.
State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a New Era founder and the director of the nonprofit until early 2015, is one of the resolution’s co-sponsors.
Recalling that New Era worked on the measure in 2007, shortly after the organization was founded, he said the arguments in favor of lowering the age are pretty much the same as they were a decade ago. “I don’t think age requirements serve much of a purpose, in my opinion,” he told The Statesman. “If someone is old enough to vote or serve in the military, then they should be allowed to compete in an election and make their case to the voters.”
According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the average age of a Colorado legislator in 2015 was 55, a full decade older than the average age of the state’s adult population. The Colorado House was slightly younger — the average age was 53, compared with 57 in the Senate — and the age was just a year younger than the average age of legislators across the country, which was 56. According to NCSL’s analysis, New Hampshire had the oldest average age for lawmakers at 64, followed by Idaho at 62. The states with the youngest lawmakers, on average, were Florida and Michigan, both at 51, although Puerto Rico beat them both with 49 as the average age of its legislators.
NCSL also found that millennials — those born from 1981 to 1997 — make up 32 percent of Colorado’s population, although they account for just 3 percent of legislators. A majority of the General Assembly belong to the Baby Boom generation, with 61 percent of Colorado lawmakers, although they’re just 29 percent of the state population. Generation X-ers are the same share of the population but make up only 29 percent of lawmakers. Coloradans belonging to generations that preceded the Baby Boom — the so-called Silent and the Greatest generations — number 8 percent of the Legislature and 10 percent of the population between them.