PHOENIX (CN) — The Arizona House Government Committee will hear a bill this week that supporters say will increase civic engagement and voter turnout among young Arizonans.
The Civic Participation Act, a constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, would lower the minimum age to run for both houses of the Arizona Legislature from 25 to 18. Arizona, currently tied for the highest requirement for age, will become the 13th state with a minimum age of 18.
Supporters say the change will encourage young voters to take a more active role in politics by engaging more with representatives who look like them and can speak to their needs.
But one expert says those results are far from guaranteed.
What would the Citizen Participation Act do?
The idea came from a 15-year-old young Republican named Nick Delgado, who pitched it to Gress.
Gress ran for township trustee in his hometown of Cyril, Oklahoma, when he was 18. Now 37, he said he empathizes with those who want to make a difference but feel too young to make a difference. do.
“One of the common threads in my public service career is community care,” Gress said. “With age comes wisdom, but caring for the community is a quality that lasts forever.”
The proposal comes amid the second-highest youth voter turnout for midterm elections in 30 years. About 27% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2022 midterms. About 50% voted in the 2020 presidential election, an 11-point increase from 2016.
Gress said these people, especially those under 25, can bring a “unique perspective” to politics.
“There are a lot of young Americans who care about their community,” he said. “They put a really good fresh perspective on some of the long-standing issues we’re facing. Problems created by older people – people who came before them.”
Gress co-sponsored the bill with the youngest state representatives on either side of the political aisle: Austin Smith, a Republican from Whitman, and Cesar Aguilar, a Democrat from Phoenix, both 27.
Aguilar said young people may be better suited to solve some of the challenges facing the nation.
“It’s definitely a generational thing,” he said. “Young people are more tech savvy (and) have more knowledge about how the world works.
“A lot of things you think are non-political become political. Older people make (issues) political, but young people just try to solve the problem.
Will it ignite the youth?
Sponsors hope the constitutional amendment will encourage young people to get involved in politics through what Gress called “descriptive representation.”
But Tom Volgi, a professor of political science at the University of Arizona, said that narrative performance alone is not enough to make a difference.
“Reducing the age is not very important, unless it means that those 18- to 25-year-olds would be talking about issues that 18- to 25-year-olds would be interested in.”
He said being young and advocating for youth issues are not the same thing. One can be young and advocate for older people or old and advocate for younger people. Volgi pointed to US Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent and former presidential candidate, as an example of the latter.
“Some people in their 20s can’t deal with these issues,” he said. “Given the divisions in our society right now, my guess is that people 18 to 25 are likely to reflect those divisions in the same way as (older people).
Francisco Pedraza, a political science professor at Arizona State University, agreed that young lawmakers will need to talk about their colleagues’ issues to increase their civic engagement, but said Volga is much more likely to look that way.
A politician like Sanders is rare, he said, and in most cases, young people are far more likely to care about youth issues than older people.
But allowing young people to run for office doesn’t mean they’re likely to win, Volgi said.
“There’s a reason elected officials tend to be older,” he said. “You need experience to know how to run and how to run successfully.”
Instead of gaining political experience at such a young age, Volpi said he’d rather see Arizonans pursue an education.
“The age between 18 and 22 is very critical for people getting a higher education,” he said. “People who have the chance to get a bachelor’s degree and never catch up in terms of economic well-being.”
But people like Aguilar can do both.
Aguilar was a student senator at Northern Arizona University when he was 18, managing a $1 million budget.
“A lot of people get involved in management at a young age,” he said. “They’re already gaining experience.”
In 2022, 10 people under the age of 25 were elected to state legislative positions in the US. Four of them were under the age of 20.
Although it represents a small percentage of all legislators, it represents a stark contrast to the average. At the beginning of the 117th Congress, the average age of House members was 58, and the average age of senators was 64. In Arizona, the average age of a state representative is 53, while the average age of a state senator is 56.
“I think you’re just seeing a youth movement,” Aguilar said.
Young politicians are particularly successful in New Hampshire. Of the 25 youngest state legislators in American history, 14 of them are from New Hampshire.
“The proof is in the pudding,” said state Rep. Jonah Wheeler, a Democrat from Peterborough, New Hampshire. “New Hampshire is a civically engaged state. They are vocal and passionate about what is happening in their community.”
Wheeler took office in December at the age of 19.
“Everyone should feel that there is a place for them in the halls of Congress,” he said. “It includes young people who have just as much of a voice as older people.”
Wheeler was elected along with Valerie McDonnell, who was 18 years and 196 days old when she took office on Dec. 7, making her the youngest sitting state legislator in the country and the third youngest ever.
“I think I surprised a lot of people,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was the youngest person until I won.”
She joked that people thought she was selling Girl Scout cookies when she knocked on doors.
Both McDonnell and Wheeler say their perspectives as young people help them look at old issues in new ways, and both said their candidacy and subsequent victories have inspired more political interest and involvement than their peers.
“(Winning the election) inspired some of my classmates (and) people I knew to write to me and say, ‘oh, that’s great.’ Maybe I can do it,” McDonnell said.
She said there’s no reason people of voting age shouldn’t run.
“The voting age of the population is 18,” she said. “These people are considered qualified to make these decisions, so they, as society has decided, are qualified to have a greater say.”
Pedraza believes people like McDonnell and Wheeler will soon fill the halls of the Arizona Legislature if the Civic Participation Act is passed.
“A lot of people under the age of 25 are very opinionated about important issues,” he said. “They’ll think, ‘why wait?’
Because it is an amendment to the state constitution, the decision will be left in the hands of voters if the bill first passes the House and Senate.
The House Government Committee will hear the bill on Jan. 25 at 9 a.m. to decide whether to go to the floor.