Voting in College
It's common that a young person's first opportunity to vote takes place when they are at college. That puts young people at a disadvantage because they may be in a new town or state, may not know how to register to vote or where to vote, and may not have transportation to get to the polls.
A study by the Campus Vote Project estimated that more than 20% of young voters (18 to 24) wanted to vote in the 2012 election but missed the voter registration deadline. That wouldn't be hard to do in states that don't have same-day registration. After all, you've only been on a campus a month or two before Election Day. In that same year, some 1.7 million youth voters didn't know how or where to register to vote.
Before the next election comes, let's get some answers about voting in college.
Where do I register to vote: At my college or at my parents' home address?
You can choose which state you want to vote in, but pay attention to voter ID requirements. You might skip registering in one state only to find you can't register in the other because you don't have the right ID and you don't have enough time to get one (see below).
What if I really want to vote in the election in my home state and not vote at college?
You can choose to vote in your home state. To do that, you will need to register to vote in that state. Then, you will need to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to you if you meet the criteria for an absentee ballot. Research your state's absentee ballot rules to learn if you qualify. When you receive an absentee ballot, you can vote early, by mail.
As a college student, how do I register to vote?
Every state has somewhat different rules. You can find voter registration rules for the state where you attend college and your home state (if you still identify your parents' home as your home) on your Secretary of State's website.
You may be able to register at your college campus during a voter registration drive, though some states limit voter registration drives.
What kind of ID will I need to register to vote?
Even states with strict voter ID laws accept several kinds of identification as proof of identity when registering to vote. A valid and accurate driver's license, an up-to-date passport, a government ID, or a military ID will always be acceptable. In some cases, a student ID card or an employee ID card can work.
Note that not all student IDs qualify, however, so you should not simply assume your ID will work. Check out the State Student Voting Guides at Campus Vote Project to see what the requirements are in your state. If you are unsure if your student ID card is acceptable as an official ID, ask your college.
My driver's license is from another state. Do I need a new driver's license?
In some states, you will be able to vote even if your driver's license is from your old state. You will need to prove residency, so bring a utility bill, a rental receipt or rent agreement, or some other documentation that proves where you live.
In strict ID states, you will need a driver's license with your new address in the state where you want to vote. You will either need to get a new driver's license, or you will need to use other forms of identification with your local address.
School starts in September. How long do I need to live in a state before I can vote there?
Some states do require that you must have lived in the precinct where you will be voting for a certain period of time. For example, Colorado, Indiana, and Montana require 30 days of residency. If you do not meet the residency requirement, this may be a reason to vote in your home state.
Can I vote in a U.S. election if I am a foreign student?
Although the outcome of an election may have real consequences for you while you are living in the U.S., you do not have a right to vote if you are not a U.S. citizen. In fact, it is a felony for a non-citizen to vote.
Can I vote in a U.S. election if I am a U.S. student living abroad?
Yes, you can vote in your last state of residence. See the website of the Overseas Vote Foundation for help registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot.
Where do college students vote? Can I vote on campus?
Many colleges have polling stations on campus to make it easier for students without transportation to be able to vote. Check your school paper or website to see if they list campus locations.
A little research as soon as you get to campus will ensure that your vote counts in the next election. To find out more about voting laws and voters' rights, FindLaw.com provides a wealth of useful information for young voters.