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Some U. Iowa Students Cope With Being Too Young To Vote

This story was written by Erin Hanley, The Daily Iowan

Imagine: You're a freshman, politically informed and active, being told every day to vote, vote, vote - and by the way, are you registered yet?

But you can't, because you're too young.

This hypothetical is a reality for University of Iowa freshman Senuri Jayatilleka, who's 17.

At this time last year, nearly 170 of the UI's 30,500 students weren't 18, according to UI Registrar Office statistics. Officials said such numbers stay consistent year to year. But according to some UI students who are too young to vote, not being able to isn't that big of a deal.

Jayatilleka, who will turn 18 in June 2009, has followed the election since last year - scanning the headlines, volunteering.

All the people standing outside asking everyone to vote doesn't bother Jayatilleka, who supports Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

"This is an important election," she said. "Students should vote."

UI political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk, who studies voting, campaigns, and political polling, said the push to "get out the vote" is simply part of the election process, though he understood that some may feel overwhelmed.

"I suppose the [number] of students standing around the campus may seem more intense this year given how campaigns have focused on young people," he said.

Some other states, including California, Illinois, and Massachusetts, have recently taken youth voting a step further, discussing the possibility of lowering the voting age to 17, according to the National Youth Rights Association. None of these proposals have passed.

Maturity, or a lack thereof, is a concern, these states contend.

"I think a lot of people under 18 would just vote the same way as their parents," said 17-year-old Ian Stewart, who attends some UI classes. "But this is a very important election, and it is good that younger students are involved."

Though he can't vote, he said, he followed the caucuses in Iowa and saw candidates speak.

"I am very interested in the election," Stewart said. "It only comes once every four years."

And though recent discussion about the age has generated some support, some UI students say they're fine with the 18-requirement.

"There has to be a cutoff somewhere," Redlawsk said. "Any particular age is arbitrary, and the country has decided that 18 is the cutoff age."

Redlawsk said he supports political awareness among those not old enough to vote, noting it's always important to be cognizant of current elections.

"I believe that people should vote if they are of age and they are informed," he said.

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