On Tuesday, November 8th, millions of Americans will cast their votes in the presidential election. But, you might be shocked by how many college students find themselves confused and lost once election season finally rolls around. For many students, their first experience voting will be via an absentee ballot, and yet obtaining that ballot may not seem like a simple task. Students may find themselves wondering: when is the absentee ballot application deadline? And, why do we even need to apply for an absentee ballot? Or, for college kids even further behind, they may be left wondering how to register in the first place.
Voting can be easy, depending on who you are. But, for people unable to vote in-person at the polls or for those lacking proper state identification, things become more complicated. For Emerson students, know that you always have a friend with an organization I help run on campus, called Democracy Matters. Feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have about voting.
Fortunately, you also have Google. Type “voting guide 2016” into Google and your top result will be a detailed guide explaining the voting process, for both in-person voters and absentee voters alike. The guide is generated based on what state you’re searching from, but if you plan to vote as a resident of a state outside of Massachusetts, you’ll be able to instead, select that state from a drop-down menu. This election cycle, Google is a godsend. Their guide is there for a reason; use it!
Still lost? Even with the help of the world’s #1 search engine? Here is a quick guide that summarizes the U.S. voting process:
If you’re a student at Emerson, you can register in your home state or as a Massachusetts resident. Note that the last day to register as a MA voter for the November 8th election is Wednesday, October 19th. If you’re an out-of-state student hoping to register as a voter back home, take note of that state’s specific deadlines. Unfortunately, the timeline for the voting process varies on a state-by-state basis. However, you should be able to find your state registration deadlines fairly easily. Check out Rock the Vote for more information, as the site lists every state’s deadlines in an easy to navigate list.
Some states may request that you have a photo ID or simply a DMV-issued ID in order to vote in-person at the polls. Others just ask that you show any document that proves your current address. There are some states that require you mail in a copy of some form of ID with your absentee ballot or application. Typically, for an absentee ballot, you aren’t required to show any form of ID and can just mail your ballot in. For MA voters, you can register to vote by mail, even if you don’t have a state-issued ID. However, you can fill out a registration form online and then print and mail it to your local election office.
An absentee ballot allows you to vote as a resident of your home district, even if you might not be able to come in-person to the polls. Many states post their absentee ballot applications online. Other states might mail you the application only after you request it in-person or online. After printing or receiving an application, you can complete the application and mail it to your local election office. Closer to Election Day, they will then send an absentee ballot to your school address. If you cannot vote in-person, the absentee ballot provides you the chance to still vote in the election. It is crucial, though, that you submit your absentee ballot materials in time for your vote to be counted. If you have not already, you should submit your application as soon as possible.
This election, in a lot of ways, is proving to be historic. Hopefully, most college students across the US will be voting this fall. For us young people who have limited opportunities to be heard in our government, voting is supremely important. Please do what you can to vote this fall and make sure to involve your friends in the process.