Colorado bill to allow teen voting fails over worries about process and legality

Colorado high school juniors and seniors won’t get to vote in school board elections, after lawmakers expressed concerns over constitutional and transparency issues.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted 8-1 Wednesday to postpone House Bill 1243 indefinitely, effectively killing the bill. It would  have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for school board members, members of the State Board of Education and in elections to increase school district taxes or to issue debt for construction.

“I really do believe in this policy,” said state Rep. Jovan Melton, an Aurora Democrat. “All of that fits within what we can do in the legislature. What I’m afraid of is the process of this bill and whether or not it’s constitutional.”

He suggested asking voters to approve a constitutional change allowing the younger voters.

The Colorado County Clerks Association and Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the measure.

Pam Anderson, executive director of the clerks association, said the privacy requirements for new teen voters would conflict with transparency needed to ensure elections are fairly conducted.

“The last thing we want is to erode the confidence in our electoral process,” Anderson said.

Matt Cook of the school boards association said the bill “seems a step too far,” noting that many school boards in the state have advisory councils or even student board members. And he questioned whether students would be able to understand the impact of tax initiatives they vote on when they don’t pay property taxes.

But lawmakers heard from numerous young people and community members asking lawmakers to support the bill.

Tay Anderson, a candidate for the Denver Public Schools board who lost his first run two years ago when he was 19, was among them. He quoted the late rap artist Tupac Shakur to support his viewpoint: “It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.”