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Too Young To Vote, Some Freshmen Sit Sidelined

This story was written by Allison Stice, The Diamondback

This presidential race has engaged the youth vote more than others in recent memory, but freshmen whose 18th birthdays fall just short of Election Day will be barred from the polls, despite feeling just as informed as their peers.

As the deadline for registration approached, freshman theatre major Gabriella Yacyk had to tell dozens of volunteers on the campus that she would love to register, but she just can't: Her birthday is Nov. 19. Yacyk has kept up with politics since high school, and even then, she would hear the perfunctory "Wow, it sucks that you can't vote."

"It's going to be a huge, important election, especially after everything that's been going on with the economy," she said. "And I don't see the difference between someone born in June who can vote, while someone born in November can't. It's not like it's a maturity issue."

Proposals to give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in local elections have passed in city councils in California and Massachusetts, but have not been enacted because they require state approval and no state has given it. Maryland and almost 20 other states joined eight other states in the past few years to allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primaries if they'll be 18 by the general election.

Though it hasn't done so, College Park's city council could pass a lower voting age for local elections without state approval, National Youth Rights Association Executive Director Alex Koroknay-Palicz said .

To get around the voting age, freshman business major Sahil Rahman considered registering under a dead person's name, which he heard happened in the past two elections.

"I thought maybe it's not such a bad idea, but Maryland is not such a swing state, so it's not even worth it," he said. "I've known for a while that I couldn't vote, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Koroknay-Palicz said many are unaware the voting age law can change. His organization, which champions youth rights, is airing its first-ever national advertisement for lowering the voting age to 16 on Washington channels next week.

"There's a perception - a very prejudiced perception - that young people are all stupid, immature and reckless," he said. "There are a lot of issues coming up that will have far-reaching consequences for the country, and young people recognize that ... the people that are going to pay [government debt] can't vote."

Yet Joe Oppenheimer, a government and politics professor, said 18 is a wise cut-off age.

"It's important to have a certain level of maturity and be independent of your parents, and I don't see, on average, kids under 18 who are independent of their parents," he said. "I think most people who are 17 are not active politically. ... That's a rare 17-year-old."

But freshman chemical engineering major Cary Li, 17, said he's probably more informed than his 18-year-old friends, but he hasn't been as involved as he might have been if his birthday were a few months earlier.

"I guess I'll just wait another four years," he said.