KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missourians could have two more elections to vote in before 2023 is over but one national group, Vote16USA, is trying to decrease the voting age to 16 for local and school board elections.
The Missouri arm of that effort, Vote16MO, is starting its campaign, led by 16-year-old DJ Yearwood.
“Youth are tax-paying citizens, contributing society members, but we draw the line when it comes to voting, where it matters the most,” Yearwood said.
He says if elected leaders are held accountable through elections, 16 and 17-year-olds are missing out on the ability to exercise that accountability over their local leaders.
“For me, I’m not going to be able to vote until we’re out of high school,” said 17-year-old Nathan Smith.
Smith is starting to get involved with Vote16MO after believing in the organization’s point that getting younger people actively involved in the electoral process earlier makes them more consistent voters later in life.
“If we are able to get people to vote younger in these elections, it’s going to increase that voter efficacy and people are going to want to go out and vote when they’re older,” Smith said.
Vote16MO’s primary approach is to work with state lawmakers to get the question to voters on the November 2024 ballot through a referendum from the legislature.
Yearwood says they already have elected officials from both sides of the aisle willing to help. If that doesn’t work, their fallback plan is to collect signatures for an initiative petition and get on that ballot that way.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft says he’s ready to listen, but he favors keeping the voting age where it is.
“We need to make sure there’s a really good reason to make the change,” Ashcroft said.
He says it might change the best spot for a polling location and would likely require the state and local election officials to maintain two voter registration lists when protecting, updating, and verifying one is hard enough.
“It would pretty much double the complexity of all the voter registration the voter determination requirements that are part of elections,” Ashcroft said.
“We value the Secretary of State’s opinion, and it would be true that it would be more work put in, but we believe it’s worth it because tax-paying citizens should have the right to vote in their community,” Yearwood said.