A third of the states allow citizens who are 17 but will be 18 by the general election to vote in the primary election. Colorado joined this group in 2019 with the passage of House Bill 19-1278 Modifications to Uniform Election Code. For one year, 17-year-olds were able to take advantage of this opportunity in Colorado. Over 10,000 voted in the March 2020 presidential primaries and over 4,000 voted in the June 2020 primary elections. However, this right to vote was revoked – inadvertently, LWVCO thinks – by the Colorado electorate in 2020 with the passage of Amendment 76 (A76).
LWVCO would like to restore voting rights to almost-18-year-olds in primary elections and has proposed language to do so, but changing the constitution requires another vote of the Colorado electorate in an even-year general election. (State ballot measures in odd years are reserved for fiscal measures.) Ballot measures can get on the ballot by collecting the required 6-digit number of signatures or by being referred by the legislature. LWVCO prefers the latter method.
Let’s review the constitutional language changes enacted and proposed. Prior to A76 the constitution read:
Every citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years, has resided in this state for such time as may be prescribed by law, and has been duly registered as a voter if required by law shall be qualified to vote at all elections.
A76 changed the first word “Every” to “Only a” – presumably to ward off any effort to allow non-citizens to vote in Colorado. You may have heard that New York City recently joined more than a dozen jurisdictions which allow non-citizens to vote in local elections.
LWVCO is proposing that we fix the almost-18-year-old disenfranchisement problem, but not touch the citizenship question which was the more obvious focus of A76, by adding the all-caps language below:
Only a citizen of the United States IS QUALIFIED TO VOTE IN ELECTIONS. EVERY CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES who has attained the age of eighteen years, has resided in this state for such time as may be prescribed by law, and has been duly registered as a voter if required by law shall be qualified to vote at all elections.
If we can get this issue referred to the ballot in 2022, then 17-year-olds could vote in the 2024 primaries. Otherwise, we will need to wait 2 more years. We feel this is a worthwhile endeavor, as enfranchisement of younger citizens is thought to engage teenagers in civic affairs and promote lifelong political participation. This voting opportunity can start getting teenagers in the habit of voting while they are still living in the community they grew up in.
Referral to the ballot from the legislature requires a 2/3 vote of each chamber and a sponsor. The resolution to place this on the ballot does not count as one of a legislator’s allowed 5 covered bills. However, legislators are wary of sponsoring a resolution unless they feel it has a good chance of passage. We are asking you to reach out to Leaguers and other Colorado voters to contact their state legislators and request that they sponsor or actively support referring this measure to the ballot.