Voting in College Know Your Rights

Your student voting rights are important. If you feel like your voting rights have been violated, don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself.

Challenges to Student Voters

If you’re a college student, the results of the 2016 election will potentially have a huge impact on your everyday life — but you can’t make a difference in that outcome unless you actually vote. Of course, if you’re a college student, and especially if you are an out-of-state college student, voting in college presents a few challenges. There is plenty of misinformation out there about how to register, making the process even harder. Luckily, all you have to do is equip yourself with the right knowledge to simplify the process. This guide has all of the important information you’ll need about your voting rights and registering as a student voter in general.

Should I Register in My Home State or College State?

You can register to vote in either your home state or where you attend college, but you cannot be registered in both locations. If you decide to register in your home state, you need to plan sign up for an absentee ballot. Absentee ballot regulations vary based on where you live. Be sure to research your state’s required process. Regardless, you will have the right to vote in the state of your choosing, as long as you have a temporary or permanent residence there.

Does Where I Register to Vote Affect My In-State or Out-of-State Tuition Status?

No, where you register to vote should not, in most cases, affect your in-state or out-of-state tuition status. There are typically several conditions that must be met to change your residency status, such as voter registration, motor vehicle registration, driver’s license, and state income tax return filing.

Does Where I Register to Vote Affect My Federal Financial Aid Package?

No.

Does Where I Register to Vote Affect My Scholarships?

There is a slight chance that where you register to vote could affect your eligibility for certain state and private scholarships and grants, if you have received those scholarships and grants from organizations or agencies in your home state. Your school’s financial aid office should be able to provide additional information. In most cases, if your in-state or out-of-state residency does not change, your scholarships should not change either.

How Do I Vote if I am Studying Abroad?

You will need to fill out a Federal Postcard Application (FPCA), print and sign the application, and then mail it to your local election office in your state of residency. Once your FPCA has been processed, you will receive a blank ballot (usually via email or fax) during election season to return to your local election office and cast your vote. This process may seem daunting, but there are a number of resources available to help guide you. Additionally, many voting offices allow you to check the status of your absentee voter registration online.

If I Register to Vote in Another State Can My Parents Still Claim Me on Their Taxes?

Yes, where you vote does will not impact your dependency status. Usually the IRS will consider you a dependent if your parents are paying for more than half of your expenses per year.

Do I Have to Change My Drivers License if I Register to Vote?

Not necessarily, though depending on your state, you may need to present an official document with your name and current address on it. If your address has changed, you may need to provide your polling location with documentation that verifies your change of address. In most states, this documentation can be a utility bill or paycheck with your current address on it.

Can I Register to Vote in Both My Home State and College State?

No, you do not have the right to vote in more than one location! In fact, it’s a felony (and considered voter fraud) to register to vote in multiple locales.

Voting as Homeless

Homeless people have the same right to vote as everyone else. In most cases, to register to vote, you will need to provide the address of a homeless shelter or the address of a street corner or park as your residence. Some states also require government-issued photo identification or affidavits certifying your citizenship in lieu of identification.


Voting as a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivor

In general, voter registration data is public, but many states limit who can access information, including your address. In some states, only political parties, academic researchers, and journalists can access your information. Currently, 22 states allow public access to voter registration information. Some states facilitate special programs for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors to allow them to keep information about where they reside private.


Voting with a Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) both legally require polling locations to provide accommodations for voters with disabilities. Specifically, the VRA legally allows voters with disabilities to select a person to assist them with voting, with some restrictions on who can be selected. If a polling location does not have adequate access ramps and accommodations for voters with physical disabilities and mobility impairments, election workers must offer alternative means for voting. For additional information regarding state policies and laws, consult voting guides from Nonprofit VOTE and the Election Assistance Commission.


Voting with a Mental Health Disability

Several states have no restrictions for voters with mental health disabilities, including Idaho, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Other states have special voting regulations for those who have been judicially deemed incapable of taking care of themselves without the aid of a guardian due to a mental disability.

Voting with a Guardian

As mentioned, in some states, you can still vote if you are under the care of a guardian. In other states, if you wish to retain your right to vote, you can go to court to have your guardianship agreement amended. And in other areas of the country, you may still be able to vote if a guardian is only in charge of certain facets of your care, such as your finances or living arrangements.


Voting While in the Military

Voting while serving abroad works just like voting in college while you’re studying abroad. You’ll need to fill out a Federal Postcard Application, send it into your local election office, and then cast your vote based on your state’s absentee voting policies.


Voting as an Ex-offender

If you are an ex-offender convicted of a misdemeanor, you retain your right to vote. If you are an ex-offender convicted of a felony, different laws apply depending on where you live. In Vermont and Maine, you can vote regardless of a felony conviction. In some states, you will be able to vote as soon as you are released from incarceration. In other states, you have to complete a term of probation or parole before you are eligible to vote again. In a few areas of the country, you cannot vote at all with a felony on your record.


For specific registration and voting guidelines, be sure to check out our guide to voting in your state. Your student voting rights are important. If you feel like your voting rights have been violated, don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself with the help of voting rights organizations and government officials. The first thing you can do if you have been unfairly disenfranchised is contact your county clerk’s office and the Department of Justice.

The county clerk will be able to provide voting accommodations for you if you have a disability or provide you with additional information about how to make sure your vote gets cast and counted. There are also a few advocacy organizations that work to help ensure that your voting rights are not violated and help you remedy the situation if they are. Below are some places you can turn to for assistance in the event your rights are violated.

CountyOffice.org
This website provides an easy-to-use online tool for finding the contact information to your county clerk’s office and other relevant government offices.

ACLU
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the premier civil rights advocacy organization in the country, and the ACLU can help you fight for your legal rights as a voter if they have been unjustly taken away.

Election Protection Coalition
The Election Protection Coalition provides in-depth information about what steps to take and who to contact if your voting rights have been violated.

Disclaimer: BestColleges.com is not affiliated with any political parties, and none of our staff members are licensed to practice law or make legal recommendations. The information contained on this page is meant to be used as a general guide and should not be a substitution for consulting with government and state election officials.