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Illinois students choose to vote in swing state of Missouri

by Jon DePaolis
Oct. 5, 2008 – Willie Mendelson, a Chicagoan attending Washington University in St. Louis, knew he would register to vote in this year’s upcoming presidential election. The tough choice was where to register: at home or at college

“I wanted my vote to matter, so I registered in Missouri,” said Mendelson, a senior at the St. Louis university where vice presidential candidates Joseph Biden and Sarah Palin met in their first and only debate Thursday night.

Mendelson said he wanted to see how Gov. Palin established herself early in the 90-minute debate and whether she’d quash concerns over her lack of foreign policy experience.

“I’m a senior now, so I wasn’t here when we had the 2004 debate , but there is so much hype right now that between all the press and the debate, really every student knows something about the election. It’s really exciting and kind of cool,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson and other out-of-state students have until Oct. 8 to register in Missouri, a key swing state in the election. Polls in Illinois, in contrast, show Democrat Barack Obama with a commanding lead over Republican John McCain.

If out-of-state students live on a college campus or in the city of St. Louis, they’re eligible to register to vote in Missouri, said Scott Leiendecker, the Republican director of elections in St. Louis.

With a major debate being held at Washington University for the second straight presidential election (and the fourth time overall), Leiendecker said there has been a noticeable difference in voter registration.

“We’ve seen a pretty big boost since February,” he said; 17,000 new voters have registered in St. Louis since the primary.
Missouri’s swing state status has raised the stakes for out-of-state students. The bellwether state has gone with the winning candidate 25 of the last 26 presidential elections, said Dave Robertson, a professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.

Michelle Stein, the Missouri state communication director of Students for Barack Obama and a student at Washington University, believes college students will play a vital role in Missouri.

Stein grew up in the Chicago suburb of Roselle but registered to vote this year in Missouri. “I feel like Missouri is much more of a swing state than Illinois,” she said.

“I think [the student vote] will be more important than people are realizing,” she added. “We are going to be affected by most of the decisions that come from the next president. We’re the ones looking for jobs in a couple of years. If that burden is still there, that’s on us.”

Katherine Lewis, a law student at Washington University, who hails from Springfield, Ill., also thinks college-age students will have a big impact.

“People are really tuned in. A lot of people stayed in to watch the [first presidential] debate on Friday,” said Lewis. The second of third presidential debates will be held Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Lewis said she encouraged students from Chicago who stopped by a registration table she helped staff to register in Missouri “because their vote matters more here.”

“There are some hotly contested races in Missouri, and it would certainly count more than in Illinois.”

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