Voting in College 

Many first-time voters first participate in the electoral process while attending college. This article answers frequently asked questions (FAQ) about voter registration and what new voters can expect.

A young person's first opportunity to vote often occurs during college. This may cause several problems for first-time voters. For example, they may be in a new town or state and may not know how or when to register to vote. They may also not have transportation to get to their polling place.

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. In that same year, some 1.7 million young voters didn't know how or where to register to vote.

This article provides answers to frequently asked questions about voter registration. Specifically, it covers when and how to register before Election Day. It also provides links to each state's voting laws.

Who can vote in U.S. elections?

Generally, you can vote in a federal, state, or local election if you meet the following requirements:

  • You are at least 18 years old
  • You are a U.S. citizen
  • You are a resident of the state in which you vote
  • You are a registered voter

Voter registration requires providing information to your state and getting your name on the voter roll. It helps prevent voter fraud and makes election officials' and poll workers' jobs easier on election day.

How do I register to vote?

There are multiple ways to register to vote. Most states allow voters to register using the following methods:

  • Mail
  • Online
  • At your local elections office

Some college campuses may allow student voters to register during a voter registration drive. But some states limit voter registration drives.

Every state has different voter registration rules. Most states have voter information and registration forms on the secretary of state's website.

Do I use my college address or my parents' home address?

If you plan to vote in the state where you attend school, use your college address. If you plan to vote in your home state, use your parent's address. If your school is in your home state, you can use either your parents' or your school address. You can't register in more than one state.

Choosing the state in which you vote is an important decision. Factors to consider include the following:

  • Whether you want to vote in person or via mail-in ballot
  • Each state's registration requirements and deadlines
  • Your designated voting location in each state

Pay special attention to your state's voter ID requirements. You might skip registering in one state only to find you can't register in the other. For example, you may not have the requisite identification to register in a different state. You may also not have enough time to register before the election (see below). So, check your state's voting registration requirements before an upcoming election.

Can I vote in my home state's election?

You can choose to vote in your home state. To do so, you must first register to vote in that state. Then, you must request that the state mail you an absentee ballot. An absentee ballot allows you to cast your vote by mail.

An absentee ballot allows you to participate in early voting in your home state. But you may not qualify for an absentee ballot. Most states require absentee voters to register well before election day.

Research your state's absentee ballot rules to learn if you qualify for absentee voting. You may also want to consider researching your home state's absentee voting and registration deadlines.

When do I have to register to vote?

Each state has different deadlines for voter registration for federal and state elections. Generally speaking, you must register at least three weeks before election day. Some states may require you to register at least 30 days before an election. Check your state's voter registration requirements well before an upcoming election to ensure you register in time.

What kind of ID do I need to register to vote?

Most states accept the following types of identification:

  • Valid driver's license
  • U.S. passport
  • Government ID
  • Military ID

Sometimes, a student ID card or a similar photo ID may suffice. Other states may allow you to provide proof of residence, like a utility bill. But not all student IDs qualify, so don't assume your ID will work. If you're unsure whether your student ID card is acceptable as an official ID, ask your college.

Even states with strict voter ID laws accept several kinds of identification as proof of identity when registering to vote. Campus Vote Project provides a state-by-state guide to state ID requirements.

My driver's license is from another state. Do I need a new driver's license?

It depends.

In some states, you can vote even if your driver's license is from a different state. You will need to prove residency, so bring a utility bill, rental agreement, or other documentation proving where you live.

In strict ID states, you will need a driver's license from the state where you vote. You will either need to get a new driver's license or use other forms of identification with your local address.

How long do I need to live in a state before I can vote there?

It depends. Some states require you to have lived in your voting precinct for a certain period of time. For example, Colorado, Indiana, and Montana require 30 days of residency. If you don't meet the residency requirement, you may have to vote in your home state.

Can I vote in a U.S. election if I am a foreign student?

Non-citizens can't vote in U.S. elections. Only U.S. citizens may vote in U.S. Elections. If a non-citizen casts a ballot, they may face felony charges.

Can I vote in a U.S. election if I am living abroad?

Yes, you can vote in your last state of residence. See the Overseas Vote Foundation's website for help registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot. Voters abroad should plan ahead if they intend to vote in an upcoming election, as they must register and receive an absentee ballot.

Where do college students vote? Can I vote on campus?

Many colleges have polling locations on campus. This makes it easier for students to vote in person. Check your school's newspaper or website to see if they list campus locations.

Helpful Resources

You may find the following links helpful if you have questions about the voting process:

For more specific information, consider browsing FindLaw's Voting section.

State Voting Laws

The following links provide information about each state's voting laws and requirements.

Alabama Voting Guide

Montana Voting Guide

Alaska Voting Guide

Nebraska Voting Guide

Arizona Voting Guide

Nevada Voting Guide

Arkansas Voting Guide

New Hampshire Voting Guide

California Voting Guide

New Jersey Voting Guide

Colorado Voting Guide

New Mexico Voting Guide

Connecticut Voting Guide

New York Voting Guide

Delaware Voting Guide

North Carolina Voting Guide

Florida Voting Guide

North Dakota Voting Guide

Georgia Voting Guide

Ohio Voting Guide

Hawaii Voting Guide

Oklahoma Voting Guide

Illinois Voting Guide

Oregon Voting Guide

Idaho Voting Guide

Pennsylvania Voting Guide

Indiana Voting Guide

Rhode Island Voting Guide

Iowa Voting Guide

South Carolina Voting Guide

Kansas Voting Guide

South Dakota Voting Guide

Kentucky Voting Guide

Tennessee Voting Guide

Louisiana Voting Guide

Texas Voting Guide

Maine Voting Guide

Utah Voting Guide

Maryland Voting Guide

Vermont Voting Guide

Massachusetts Voting Guide

Virginia Voting Guide

Michigan Voting Guide

Washington Voting Guide

Minnesota Voting Guide

West Virginia Voting Guide

Mississippi Voting Guide

Wisconsin Voting Guide

Missouri Voting Guide

Wyoming Voting Guide

Consider reading FindLaw's article on Voting Rights History and Law for more information.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

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, provides a wealth of helpful information for young voters.

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to protect your voting rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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