PHOENIX — The Arizona House government committee will hear a bill this week that supporters say will increase civic engagement and voter turnout in young Arizonans.
The Civic Participation Act, a constitutional amendment proposed by Representative Matt Gress, a Republican from Phoenix, would lower the minimum age to run for both chambers of the Arizona Legislature from 25 to 18. Arizona, currently tied for the highest age requirement, would 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, engaging more with representatives that look like them and can speak to their needs.
But one expert says those results are far from guaranteed.
What would the Civic Participation Act do?
The idea came from a 15-year-old Young Republican named Nick Delgado, who pitched it to Gress.
Gress ran for a township trustee position 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 are deemed too young to do so.
“One of the common threads in my career in public service has been care for community,” Gress said. “With age comes wisdom, but care for community is a quality that’s timeless.”
The proposal comes on the heels of the second-highest young voter turnout for a midterm election in 30 years. About 27% of people 18 to 29 voted in the 2022 midterm. About 50% voted in the 2020 presidential election, an 11-point increase from 2016.
Gress said those people, especially those younger than 25, can bring a “unique perspective” to politics.
“There are a lot of young Americans who care about their community,” he said. “They bring a really good fresh perspective to some of the long-standing problems we’re facing. Problems created by older people — people who came before them.”
Gress sponsored the bill alongside the youngest state representatives from each side of the political aisle: Austin Smith, a Republican from Whittmann, and Cesar Aguilar, a Democrat from Phoenix, both of whom are 27.
Aguilar said young people may be better fit to solve some of the challenges facing the nation.
“It definitely is a generational thing,” he said. “Young people are more tech savvy (and) they have more knowledge about how the world operates.
“A lot of things you think are nonpolitical become political. Older people make (issues) political, but young people just look at trying to solve the problem.”
Will it fire up young people?
Sponsors hope the constitutional amendment will encourage young people to engage in politics through what Gress called “descriptive representation.”
But Tom Volgy, a political science professor at the University of Arizona, said descriptive representation alone isn’t enough to make a change.
“Reducing the age is not very important unless what that means is that those people 18 to 25 would speak to issues that people 18 to 25 would care about.”
He said being young and advocating for young people’s issues aren’t one in the same. One can be young and advocate for older people, or be old and advocate for younger people. Volgy pointed to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent and past presidential nominee, as an example of the latter.
“Some people in their 20’s can’t address those issues,” he said. “Given the divisions in our society right now, my guess is people 18 to 25 are likely to reflect these divisions the same as (older representatives do).
Francisco Pedraza, a political science professor from Arizona State University, agreed that young legislators would have to speak to their peers’ issues to increase their civic engagement, but he said that’s a lot more likely that Volgy makes it seem.