Whether they are "Feeling the Bern" or want to "Make America Great Again," college students and their votes matter in the 2016 presidential race. By peeking into the meeting of one of Boston College’s several political clubs, listening in on a casual dinner conversation between classmates at Mac, or even scrolling through a lengthy comment thread on Yik Yak, it is clear that many BC students are passionate about the race and their favorite candidates.
But because most students live away from home, this passion for politics does not always translate to the polls. Knowing how and where to vote can be a hassle when people cannot simply drive to their hometown polling place, but with the knowledge of how to go about the process, students can ensure that their voices will be heard and counted.
There are over 5,000 colleges and universities across the country, and the millions of students attending them represent a significant portion of the eligible voting population. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, for presidential elections, voters ages 18 through 24 have had the lowest voting rates of any age group since 1964.
CampusVoteProject.org explains some of the reasoning behind this lack of a young vote: In the 2008 presidential election, 21% of voters ages 18-24 reported that they did not register because they missed the deadline, and 6.2% said they were not registered because they did not know how or where to do it. To avoid being part of these statistics, it is important to know how, when, and where to register and vote.
The first step is registration, and states have different deadlines regarding when this must be completed; many require residents to register at least 30 days prior to election day, while some allow registration the day of the election. College students can choose to register in their home state, meaning they must vote via absentee ballot if at school during the election, or in their college’s state. To see a complete list of different states’ deadlines for registration, click here.
Some students base their decision of where to vote—either in their home state or their school state—on how much impact their vote will have in either state. A vote may have more influence in one state than the other. This website, CountMore.org, assesses which state one’s vote will have more impact in.
Method of registration also varies by state. Many states offer online registration, while others require registration in person at places like the town hall or DMV, or by mail. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission provides an interactive map with state-specific information on where to register.
There is plenty of time to register before the general election, which will take place on Tuesday, November 8, 2016. It is currently primary season, however, and although the Massachusetts primary already took place, many state primaries have yet to happen. There is still time to register for primaries for those from California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and many more.
Once registered, people who plan to vote in person are all set until the day of the election. But those who will be absent from their polling place on the day of the election must request and send in an absentee ballot on time. Absentee ballots are available in every state, and can be used for both primary and general elections.
States have different policies about requesting absentee ballots. In Massachusetts as well as many others states, one can mail in an application or have a family member request the ballot at a local office like town hall. The ballots are then mailed from the local office to the address of the absentee voter.
Absentee voters must then make sure that their ballots are received by the time the polls close on the actual day of the election to ensure that their votes will be counted. Details about each state’s absentee ballot rules can be found here.
Although it takes a bit of extra time and effort to register, request an absentee ballot, and complete the absentee ballot on time, all are important steps in fulfilling one’s civic duty.
Students must bring their enthusiasm for politics full-circle by actually voting—not just talking, debating, and arguing with friends about which candidate will make a difference. For more helpful information on voter registration and absentee ballots, see LongDistanceVoter.org and USA.gov.