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With a national voting age of 18, almost every college student can vote. But if you're away at school for most of the year and living far from home, how and where are you supposed to vote?
The "how" question is relatively simple: You cast your vote either in person, or by absentee ballot. But the question of "where" depends on several factors, including the laws of the state where you're registered (or hoping to register).
With Election Day fast approaching, the deadline for registering to vote is just around the corner for many jurisdictions. Here's what college students need to know about voting away from home:
Are You Eligible to Vote?
Eligibility to vote is similar in most states. U.S. citizens who are at least 18 are allowed to vote in the state where they live. Note, however, that many states impose restrictions on the voting rights of convicted felons in certain cases -- a controversial issue that the ACLU has called attention to.
Which Address Should You Use?
Where you live is determined by your address. So that mailbox where you receive packages at exam time may be enough to vote in the state or city where you go to college.
Each state has residency requirements for voting, so check with your state voting agency to find out what they are. If you've lived in the state long enough, then you're eligible to register where you go to school. If you've moved within a state or within a county, in some cases you can just call or go online to update your registration.
Alternatively, you can remain registered in the state where your parents or guardians live, if you still claim their address as your permanent residence. Just send in your absentee ballot early so that it gets to your home jurisdiction in time.
What you can't do is register to vote in multiple localities. That is voter fraud and could lead to criminal charges if you're caught.
When Is the Registration Deadline?
Once you've decided where you're eligible to vote and which address you'll use, you'll need to register before the deadline.
Just like residency requirements, each state has its own deadlines for registering to vote. Those deadlines range from same-day registration to 30 days before the election. (This year's Election Day is November 5, 2013, so you may want to get moving if there's an election in your area.)
Once you're registered, make sure you know where your polling location is. Some states allow (or even require) vote by mail, but others make you visit an actual voting booth nearby.
Just because you're a college student living at school doesn't mean your vote is any less important. Fulfill your civic duty by casting your vote come November, no matter where you live.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.