Jerry Kopel: Old enough for Kansas is old enough for us
Vail CO, Colorado
How old should you be to serve in the Colorado legislature? You have to decide in November.
Referendum L on the November ballot reduces the age qualification from 25 years down to 21 years for legislative service.
House Concurrent Resolution 1002 by Rep. Michael Garcia, D-Denver and Sen. Steve Johnson, R- Ft. Collins, to amend the constitution on this issue won sufficient votes in the 2007 legislature to now become Referendum L.
One argument in favor of cutting four years off the age of someone otherwise qualified to be elected a representative or senator is that Colorado is in a minority of three states out of 50 requiring 25 years of age for both House and Senate service. The other two are Arizona and Utah.
Colorado has been using 25 years as the qualification since the state constitution was enacted in July of 1876. At that time, the ability to cast a vote in the United States was limited to persons 21 and older. That meant a four-year difference between voting and serving.
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The national voting age was dropped from 21 to 18 in 1971 in the U.S. Constitution under Article 26. It was ratified by 38 states as of June 30, 1971: “The right of citizens of the United States who are 18 years of age or older to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”
If Colorado voters pass Referendum L, Colorado will join nine other states with an age 21 provision for both House and Senate legislative service: Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska (only has one legislative chamber) Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia.
And 21 is still the preferred age in House service for the 50 states. Including Nebraska, 27 states fall into that category. Another 17 states prefer age 18 for House members. That leaves only six, for which we already discussed those requiring age 25. The other House minimum age is 24, used by Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.
Kentucky and Missouri are weird. Along with 24 years of age for House membership, you must be 30 to qualify for the Senate. Other states with a Senate floor requirement of 30 are New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee. Delaware’s Senate minimum age is 27.
Nineteen states have a preferred minimum age for the Senate of 25. Another 14 states use age 18.
There is no logic to this lack of uniformity. Why should a brilliant young person old enough to vote at age 18 have to wait seven years to gain a seat in the Colorado House, while his twin sister in Kansas could already be sworn into that state’s House?
The age minimum for Congress is 25, and for the U.S. Senate it is 30. It may keep good candidates from running, but at least the age is the same in Texas and as it is in Connecticut.
Will Colorado eventually end up with an 18 years of age qualification for the House and 21 for the Senate? Minnesota is presently the only state to do so. The preferred difference between House and Senate minimum age requirement is age 25 for the Senate and age 21 for the House, provided for by 15 states.
Of course, any future changes as to age qualification for Colorado legislators will still have to come through a vote of the citizens to amend the state constitution.
Most opposition to a lesser age for service revolves around “the lack of experience in the REAL world.” That won’t be resolved until someone does a study of how 18- and 21-year-old legislators have performed their services.
My thanks to Peggy Kerns of the National Conference of States Legislators and Deb Godshall of the Legislative Council for their assistance in providing pertinent information.
There are four referendums from the legislature dealing with constitutional amendments that will be on the November 2008 ballot. This columnist will discuss each.
Along with Referendum L is Referendum N (HCR 1008) repealing language relating to intoxicating substances. Referendum M (HCR 1009) repeals a taxation exemption following arboreal planting. Referendum O (SCR 003) revises the process for initiatives on changing the constitution and state statutes.
Jerry Kopel is a former Democratic state representative who served 22 years in the Colorado House.