By Nathaniel Nelson
Settling into the fall semester? Chances are, if you’re going home at all before winter break, it’s for fall break, Thanksgiving, or some other specific occasion besides Election Day, which will be coming up on Nov. 8. No matter where you are, though, your vote still counts, so don’t waste it. Many Americans find themselves away from home on election days, so each state has created its own system for allowing all of those votes. Below, I’ll touch briefly on how to cast your ballot while away at college (even abroad). Since each state has different rules, forms, instructions, etc., any information provided below should only be considered a starting point from which to do your own research.
First, if you haven’t done so already, you must register to vote. Luckily, most states will allow for you to register by mail or online within a month, or even weeks, of Election Day. I was able to register while I was living in London last year, so there’s definitely no convenient excuse for not doing it (unless you’re living in the mountains of Moldova and the WiFi is spotty). Even more good news about registering: unlike the primary system, which is party-based and occasionally subject to voter disenfranchisement tactics, registering to vote in the general election is more streamlined and less icky.
Many states offer an early voting option, and every state is required to provide absentee voting. Three states—Oregon, Washington, and Colorado—have exclusively mail-in voting. Everything is handled through your home state department, but the process is basically alike in any case. If your home state allows for early voting, there will be a time frame in which you can cast your ballot, in person, as you would on Election Day, before Nov. 8, at no penalty.
If you’re away, or know you’re going to be away on Nov. 8, you can also apply for a mail-in absentee ballot. You will require a witness to oversee the process once you receive your ballot (to avoid legal pitfalls such as voter fraud), or you can just go to your local elections office and do it in front of the staffed workers there. Some states require you to provide an excuse for your absence on Election Day, while others don’t.
If you want to learn more, here’s a map that’ll tell you whether your state allows for early voting or excuse-free absentee voting, and a helpful video from the Minnesota State Department on how to vote absentee (the process of which, naturally, applies to other states as well).
And if you want to make things really easy on yourself, check out TurboVote. The online voting helper will supply with you the voter registration rules for your state and send you text and email reminders if a vote is coming up. Sign up is free, and they’ll even mail your completed forms out for a small charge. Click here to find out more.
Nathaniel Nelson (N8) is a filmmaker and writer.
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