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College Voter Prep Guide Tips for Registering & Voting on Campus

College students have plenty on their plates, and when election season comes around, figuring out the voting process can seem overwhelming to deal with. Taking the time to get prepped for voting may not seem appealing, but young voters can have a huge impact on the United States political scene. This guide can smooth the process and help college students ensure they are registered and well-informed when it comes time to fill out their ballots.

Meet the Expert

Mary Bennett

Director; Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service, Southern Utah University

Written By

Why College Voters Matter

Young voters (aged 18-29) make up 21% of the eligible voting population

Young voters were projected to have the most potential to impact the 2016 presidential election

But only 50% of young voters voted in the 2016 presidential election

Source: CIRCLE

Young voters make up almost as much of the eligible voting population as Baby Boomers (people born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s). Even though they are the second-largest group of voters, Millennials’ voices don’t ring out as loudly as other groups. Why do young people vote less?

While there are many reasons why someone may choose not to vote, uncertainty on how to register to vote or the lack of easy access to voter registration may come into play for college students. That’s why groups like The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) stress the important of providing information about voting and easy access to registration for young voters.

How to Register & Vote in College

College students are notoriously busy, so registering to vote is often low-priority. Students may be surprised to find that registering to vote is actually a quick process, and schools usually provide many opportunities to get registered on campus. These steps can help make the process even easier:

Students will have to determine in which state they want to vote. Those who go to school in their home state have an easy decision, but out-of-state students need to figure out if they want to register where they go to school or from where they hail. When making this decision, students should consider:

  • Local issues

    If they want to participate in local elections, determining which state in which to register is particularly important.

  • Swing state/battleground state status

    Students may feel their vote has more of an impact if they can cast it in a state that is fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative voters.

  • Ease of absentee-voting

    If getting an absentee ballot for their home state requires extra hoops to jump through, students may prefer to register in their school state instead.

  • Post-graduation plans

    Students who plan to move back to their home state after graduation might consider registering in their home state. This allows them to see the long-term impact of their votes in local elections and saves them the hassle of changing their registration later.

Each state has different voter registration deadlines and eligibility requirements, so students should give themselves time to check these requirements and make sure they are eligible before starting the registration process. There are a few requirements, however, that will likely apply to most students.

General voting eligibility requirements
  • Must be 18 years old to vote. Age requirements for registration can vary.

  • Must be a United States citizen

  • Must meet state residency requirements

  • Must complete the voter registration form by a specified deadline

  • Must provide ID on voting day

When registering to vote, you can select a political party affiliation. While students may choose not to affiliate with any of the major political parties, it may prevent them from being able to participate in caucuses and primary elections. Closed primaries, for instance, are generally reserved for members of the Democratic and Republican parties to determine the candidate that will represent each group in the main election.

It’s important to note that “Independent” and “nonpartisan” are not one in the same. The American Independent Party is a large third party that people often register under, assuming it means they will be unaffiliated with a political party. Those who do not want to declare a political party should choose “nonpartisan” or “unaffiliated”.

If you’re undecided on your affiliation, it may be helpful to research the various parties and their stands on current issues. See “Before You Vote: Getting Educated on the Issues” for more information.

Registering to vote is a relatively simple process, and can be done in a few different ways. In general, registrants will need to fill out a form and provide some type of approved ID, like a driver’s license. A social security card or number may also be required.

  • In person

    Especially during election season, students will find plenty of opportunities to register to vote in person. Often, canvassers walk around campus with registration forms and can help students fill them out. Student government representatives may stop by classrooms to hand out forms, as well. Otherwise, students can register to vote at their state or local election office, the DMV, armed services recruitment centers or public assistance offices.

  • Online

    Online registration is available in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Vote.gov can help students determine if online registration is available in their state and, if so, direct them to the right form.

  • By mail

    Students can pick up a registration form in person or download one from their state’s voting webpage, fill it out and mail it in with any other necessary documents.

Out-of-state students who register to vote in their home state will need to request an absentee ballot in order to vote. Some states allow mail-in voting without requiring a reason, while others will need proof that a student is unable to make it to a local polling station. Many nonprofit organizations make it easy to request an absentee ballot online, or students can go through their state’s voting page.

After placing the request, a ballot should arrive in the mail before election day. Students will need to send their completed ballot through the mail before the date listed on the ballot.

When election day rolls around, it’s time to go vote! Before that, though, students should check polling locations and times if they plan to vote in person. They should plan to set aside a few hours, as polling stations can be very busy. To smooth the process, students should make sure they have their voter registration card, any necessary ID and their practice ballot, where they can have all their votes written down for easy reference.

Those who mail in their votes can prepare their ballots early to be sure they get them postmarked by the designated deadline. Students should be careful to follow all instructions and make sure their ballot is complete before mailing it in.

Ask an Expert: Student Voting FAQs

Mary Weaver Bennett is the director of the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service at Southern Utah University. She is a specialist in legislative and regulatory policy matters for the financial services industry, specializing in electronic payments, fintech, government relations, advocacy and communications.

How do I vote if I’m studying abroad?

Usa.gov is a great resource for anyone needing to vote overseas. Essentially the registered voter would need to obtain an absentee ballot.

What address should I use to register if I live in a dorm?

As a dorm resident, a student would need to use the physical address of the dorms, as opposed to the physical address for the university. For example, SUU’s address is 351 W University Blvd., while the address for one of the dorms is 645 W 200 S Apt. # __

Will where I register to vote affect my scholarships?

Generally, no. If a student receives scholarship money, it is important to confirm that residency in a particular place is not a requirement of the scholarship and/or that voter registration will not affect your eligibility.

Will where I register to vote affect my financial aid?

No, it will not affect any federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, Perkins and Stafford Loans, Academic Competitive Grants, SMART Grants and other federal loans. Some private scholarships and grants are designated for residents of a particular place, so it is good to check with the administrator of the program to see how they determine residency.

Will where I register to vote affect my in- or out-of-state tuition status?

A student’s tuition status depends on where they are a resident. So yes, where a student is registered can affect in- or out-of-state tuition status.

Will where I register to vote affect if my parents can claim me on their taxes?

No, a parent can still claim a child on their taxes, no matter where they are registered to vote.

Will where I register to vote affect my health insurance?

No, where you register to vote will not affect your health insurance.

Will I need to register for a new driver’s license if I register to vote in a new state?

If your current address does not match your driver’s license, you can register to vote at your new address and the ID and proof of residency requirements with your Secretary of State’s office. You may need to get a new driver’s license.

Before You Vote: Getting Educated on the Issues

Before voting, it’s important to do some research on the political issue that will be included in the election. Voters’ pamphlets are generally sent to all households before an election, but the information provided is usually brief and students living away from home may not receive them. Here are resources from a variety of viewpoints to help students get familiar with issues that may come up during elections.

  • I Side With…

    Check out and participate in polls covering a wide range of political topics.

  • Center for American Progress

    An independent, nonpartisan organization providing information on progressive issues and ideas.

  • Jacobin

    A print and online publication that offers socialist perspectives on politics, economics and culture.

  • The Intercept

    An independent news source with in-depth articles and investigative reporting on a variety of national and global issues.

  • It’s Going Down

    A leftist website that presents issues without political party bias.

  • NPR – National Public Radio

    A publicly-funded national radio station with news segments.

  • MSNBC

    A major liberal news source.

  • Fox News

    A major conservative news source.

  • Al Jazeera

    A comprehensive source for global news and perspectives.

  • Snopes

    Need to check the validity of a political post floating around online? Snopes can help.

Student Voting Resources & Campus Organizations

Students can learn more about the voting process and getting involved in various political scenes on- and off campus by checking out these websites.

  • United States Student Association

    This longstanding organization aims to strengthen the student political voice at the local, state and national levels.

  • Democracy Matters

    This national, nonpartisan, on-campus student group aims to get students involved in political action and activism by providing resources and internships.

  • Project Mobilize

    This is a new Millennial action movement that aims to promote change through civic engagement.

  • Young People For

    This organization works to increase opportunities for young people to become strong advocates of social change.