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A Kansas City teen wants to lower the voting age to 16 to increase civic engagement

A man sitting inside a radio studio gestures with both hands while talking at a microphone.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
16-year-old DJ Yearwood is a youth advocate and the campaign director for Vote16MO. He's motivated to change the opinion of adults who say that teens don't have enough life experience or maturity to vote.

Kansas City teen DJ Yearwood is the campaign director of Vote16MO, an initiative to lower the voting age in municipal and school board elections in Missouri. The group wants to get a measure on the ballot by November 2024.

If you want to vote in any election in Missouri, you have to be 18 years of age by election day. But some voting rights advocates, like DJ Yearwood, think that should change.

In March, Yearwood started a ballot initiative campaign called Vote16MO, which is working to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 in Missouri for certain elections. The group hopes to get an issue on the November 2024 ballot that would allow 16-year-olds to vote in local and municipal elections, where candidates don't register with a party.

Yearwood says this system would teach civic engagement without divisive politics — giving students a "stable learning environment" for getting involved in government.

"We just saw in this municipal election, there weren't candidates arguing about who was Democratic and who was Republican. It was about who's actually going to fix these roads, who's actually going to strengthen jobs," Yearwood said. "That's the important thing that we need to grasp on here. And that's how we're creating a better prepared, more engaged and more educated electorate."

Critics of the initiative argue that 16- and17-year-olds don't have the maturity or life experience to weigh in on government and policy. Yearwood disagrees.

"Sixteen and 17-year-olds, we trust them to drive, we trust them to work, we trust them to fly planes, right?" Yearwood said. "I feel like that comment is kind of a cop-out answer for, 'I just don't want to support this campaign.'"

Tacoma Park, Maryland, was the first city to give voting rights to 16-year-olds in 2013, and three others in the state have followed since. Two cities in California passed similar measures, but the counties never implemented them.

Yearwood says that many Missouri politicians — including Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, the state's chief election official — are not yet convinced about their proposal.

"He's still not on board, but we won't give up on that," Yearwood said.

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