Can I Vote in the State Where I Go to College if I'm an Out-of-State Student?
As elections approach, some out-of-state students may decide they would prefer to vote in the state where they go to college instead of in their home state. Clarissa Unger helps students navigate voting, whether on campus or by mail-in/absentee ballot.
Voting as an Out-of-State Student
Students who relocate to pursue higher education are faced with an important decision about how to spend their political capital at election time. These students may elect to vote in their home state by absentee/mail-in ballot; return to their home state to vote in person; or register and vote where they are currently studying.
In addition to deciding in which polling location they would like to cast their ballots, these emerging voters must find out whether they meet the requirements to do so.
Are you eligible to vote in the state where you are studying if you came from a different state? Yes, you’re eligible as long as you meet the requirements set by the state where you plan to vote.
Meet Clarissa Unger - She helps students vote!
Clarissa Unger is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition. The Students Learn Students Vote Coalition (SLSV) is our nation’s largest nonpartisan network fostering student access to electoral processes. In her conversation with U.S. Vote Foundation (US Vote), Clarissa Unger will discuss the barriers to voting students may face, and explain the requirements and best practices that allow students to participate in American democracy.
Clarissa, in your experience, have you found that most college students pre-register or register to vote before starting college? Do they tend to be informed about how to vote?
In some states, it’s possible to register to vote before turning 18 through a process called pre-registration. The specific age at which you can register to vote differs by state, but you can look up the pre-registration details for your state in this helpful tracker from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In a perfect world, every high school student would be encouraged to register to vote when they’re able to do so by their high school, or when they apply for financial aid for college through the Department of Education’s FAFSA form. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and many students start college having never registered to vote.
Luckily though, colleges and universities are required by the federal Higher Education Act to make a good faith effort to provide voter registration to students, and we’ve seen more and more colleges and universities take this responsibility seriously over the last few years.
That said, since elections are run locally, laws around registration and voting can differ from state to state, and voting procedures can differ even on the county level within the same state.
So while students, or any of us, may understand how to vote in one place, the process may be different if we’ve moved even within the same city or state. It’s important for all of us to seek out voter education information to ensure we feel confident registering to vote, or re-registering if need be, and voting!
At the SLSV Coalition, we know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to registering and turning out students to vote.
That’s why we seek to provide local campus leaders and coalitions with the tools and resources they need to register as many students as possible at their own institutions. We do this through two initiatives that we lead in collaboration with other national partners to encourage campuses, nonprofit organizations, and student groups to register students in their own communities.
We believe that participating in our democracy should be celebrated. Voting is an important act involving community, fun, and togetherness.
That’s why we support campuses in hosting events that celebrate voting and encourage college students to participate in the democratic process. Whether it’s around major holidays such as National Voter Registration Day, National Voter Education Week, and Vote Early Day, through the Campus Takeover program, or in other ways throughout the year, we encourage campuses to make voting and democratic engagement fun.
We’ve also worked in partnership with a number of campuses that have integrated voter registration into existing campus systems and processes such as campus orientation or class registration – truly meeting students where they’re at.
Through Ask Every Student – a joint initiative that we lead with the support of Steering Committee members from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project, and NASPA – we’ve worked with dozens of campus codesigners to create resources and tools to help campuses seamlessly integrate voter registration into other campus processes for students.
When students take up residence away from home at or near their institution of higher learning, what factors have you found they commonly weigh when deciding where to register to vote?
First, it’s important to note that college students have the option of registering to vote from their campus address or from their former, pre-college address, given they still meet the residency requirements for the state in which they plan to register.
That said, it can sometimes be difficult or confusing to vote from a distance if a student chooses to register at their pre-college address in a state other than where they are attending college, especially if voting for the first time.
In fact, data from Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education shows that out-of-state students who register at their pre-college address tend to vote at a rate 10 percentage points lower than those who register at their college address.
With that in mind, students should weigh the ease of both registering to vote and voting in each state when determining where to register to vote.
Additionally, if there is a particular election that is important to students, they also sometimes register to vote and vote where their vote will have the largest impact.
Ultimately, though, our recommendation to students is to register wherever it is going to be easiest for them to cast their ballot, and where there are elections that are most important to them.
For students who split their time between their pre-college location and their studying location, what kind of residency requirements do they navigate in different states or even different voting districts?
Our partners at the Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project regularly update their great State Student Voting Guides, which include information specific for students on how to register and vote in every state. Because residency requirements can differ from state to state, and also can change if states pass new legislation, we recommend referring to these State Student Voting Guides for any questions related to residency requirements by state.
US Vote also shares updated residency requirements in our State Voting Information directory. We have found that some states communicate their residency requirements through registration deadlines, or by specifying that voter IDs must include a current address.
Idaho has recently revoked student ID as an acceptable form of voter ID. Are college students typically able to use their student ID to vote in other states?
What other voter ID do students tend to use, and how is this ID acquired?
Voter ID laws can be confusing. Every state has different rules, and the rules can also differ depending on how you choose to vote, i.e in-person, by mail, early in-person, etc. For college students, things can get even more complicated.
We’ve partnered with VoteRiders, a nonprofit organization that educates voters and assists citizens in securing voter ID, to provide clear, accurate, and easily available voter ID information for students by state. You can find more information on our Student Voter ID resource page and see which types of voter ID are accepted in your state, if any.
VoteRiders is indeed a terrific resource to help students obtain identification. Once a student has checked eligibility, obtained voter ID, and registered to vote, the journey to the ballot box is not over. Have you found that the status of “student” presents additional barriers to voting? What are the biggest challenges to achieving easy and equal access to voting for students?
College students are often first-time voters, and first-time voters can face both psychological and systemic barriers to casting their ballots.
This is why voter education is such an essential component of the voter journey, and can help ensure voters have the tools, information, and confidence they need to cast their ballots.
Along with our founding partners, the SLSV Coalition launched National Voter Education Week to support colleges and universities, community organizations, corporations, and election officials in sharing accurate election information particularly catered to first-time voters to help them navigate the voting process.
Further, a systemic barrier to students looking to cast their ballots can also be the physical location of voting or early voting sites, which are sometimes located far from campuses and difficult to get to for students without transportation. With our partners at MTV, the Campus Vote Project, and the Alliance for Youth Organizing, we created an initiative and tools to help students and campus leaders advocate for on-campus voting sites.
That’s all to say, the challenges to achieving easy and equal access to voting look different in every state – and really on every campus – based on state voting laws and local election practices.
But we can all work to make voting easier and more accessible for students by sharing accurate voting information and, at the very least, helping students overcome the psychological barriers that can hold new voters back from participating.
Yes, it’s so important to make a plan for how to vote, including finding polling locations, or applying for absentee ballots ahead of time if students can’t vote in person. SLSV has done such an incredible job creating initiatives and sharing tools to encourage student voters.
Can you further describe best practices SLSV has analyzed for increasing student participation in the U.S. electoral process?
What specific methods have coalition members used to promote voter education and voter mobilization on college campuses?
The thing is, there’s really no one-size-fits-all approach to increasing student participation in U.S. elections. That’s why foundational to the work of the SLSV Coalition is SLSV Checklist, a four-step process for institutionalizing student voter engagement for the long term that encourages local leaders to form diverse coalitions, assess available data, and write action plans for how they will register, educate, mobilize, and ensure students have access to the polls.
That said, we’ve seen campuses implement really innovative strategies to educate and mobilize students to vote, such as:
-Recruiting and training students to be leaders and voting ambassadors for their peers, by way of Federal Work Study positions, fellowship programs, and incentivized volunteer ambassadorships.
-Integrating voter education into the classroom to connect what students are learning with the importance of voting.
-Making democracy fun and celebratory by celebrating the Civic Holidays of National Voter Registration Day, National Voter Education Week, and Vote Early Day on campus.
-Making voting more accessible by ensuring there is a voting site on campus.
What great and encouraging strategies! These approaches could make a big difference even when polling places are not available on campus.
Thank you for being such a great resource for emerging voters, Clarissa. Please let our readers know how to connect with and partner with the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition.
You can find out so much more about the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition and access all of our resources at slsvcoalition.org. If you’re interested in becoming an SLSV Coalition partner (and we hope you are!), you can find out more about eligibility, benefits, and expected commitments here: https://slsvcoalition.org/join-the-coalition/.
Finally, we hope you’ll follow us on your favorite social media platform! We’re on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn at @slsvcoalition.
US Vote offers our tools and services to SLSV Coalition members and all college students. We encourage you to create a Voter Account at US Vote so that your voting information moves with you whether you’re on campus, back home, away on break, or relocating once you graduate. It’s quick, easy and secure to enter your information so that you can generate forms (to register or request an absentee ballot) no matter where you go. You can keep track of your elected officials and of any upcoming elections. You can even get reminders for election deadlines. With US Vote’s Voter Account, being a voter has never been so easy.