How to Vote in College: Know Your Rights

College voters face a unique set of challenges. Learn more about how to overcome those challenges and cast your vote in 2023.
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Updated on March 3, 2023
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  • College students can vote in their home state or in the state they attend college.
  • Students experiencing homelessness can still cast a ballot.
  • If you feel your voting rights have been violated, reach out to the Department of Justice.
  • Be prepared to vote in the upcoming elections.

Today, U.S. colleges and universities enroll around 17 million undergraduates. This population has the power to cast deciding votes in the upcoming 2022 midterm election. Unfortunately, college students often face significant challenges when attempting to vote.

In this guide, we help you navigate the student voting process, going over how to register and cast your vote. You'll also learn how to navigate special voting circumstances, what to do if you feel your voting rights have been violated, and how U.S. midterm and presidential elections work.

Double Check Your Voter Registration Status

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Get Your Absentee Ballot (Also Called Vote-By-Mail)

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How to Vote in College: An Overview

Taking time to register and vote may seem challenging when you're busy attending class and doing homework. However, participating in our country's democratic process is always worth the effort.

To make it easier for students to vote, the government allows learners to submit absentee ballots (also called mail-in and vote-by-mail ballots) if they're registered in their home state and are attending school out of state. This means you don't need to travel to your hometown polling location in order to vote.

Alternatively, if you maintain a permanent or temporary residence in the state where you attend college, you can change your voter registration to that state so you can vote in person. You can update your voter registration via mail, online, at a government facility, or, in some states, over the phone.

Note that registering to vote in more than one state is illegal. You must register in your home state (i.e., where your permanent home is located) or the state where you attend school.

If you're voting in person, make sure you find your designated polling location before Election Day. That way you'll know where to go and won't risk missing the voting deadline due to getting lost. To find your polling place, visit your state's election office website.

You should also familiarize yourself with the candidates running for office and key issues. Many states mail out voter information pamphlets, which provide overviews of all the measures and candidates — including their stances on current issues — that will appear on the ballot.

You can also look up voting information online. Many newspapers offer voting guides ahead of major elections as well.

How to Vote in College When You Have Special Circumstances

Some students have special circumstances that may make voting or registering to vote trickier. Here, we offer guidance on how to navigate a variety of situations so you can participate in elections without issues.

Voting When You're Homeless or Housing Insecure

People experiencing homelessness have the same right to vote as everyone else.

If you don't have a permanent home address, you'll need to put down the address of a homeless shelter, street intersection, or public park as your residence. Some states may also require a government-issued photo ID or affidavits certifying your U.S. citizenship.

Voting as a Survivor of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault

Voter registration data is generally public. In some states, however, only political parties, academic researchers, and journalists can access voters' information.

Many states operate special programs for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors to help keep their residency information private.

Voting With a Disability

Both the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) require polling locations to provide accommodations for voters with disabilities. Specifically, the VRA 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 to ramps and accommodations for voters with physical disabilities and mobility impairments, election workers must work to offer alternative means for voting.

For additional information on state policies and laws related to disabilities, refer to the voting resource guides from Nonprofit VOTE and the Election Assistance Commission.

Voting While Under a Conservatorship

In some states, you can still vote even if you're under a legal guardianship or conservatorship, in which someone makes decisions for you. In other states, if you wish to retain your right to vote, you must go to court to have your conservatorship agreement amended.

Often, you can still vote if your conservator is in charge of only 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 Post Card Application, send it to your local election office, and then cast your vote using your state's absentee or mail-in voting system.

Voting as a Formerly Incarcerated Person

Formerly incarcerated people with misdemeanor convictions retain their right to vote. Different laws apply in regard to felony convictions depending on the state. In Vermont, Maine, and Washington, D.C., you may vote even with a felony conviction.

In some states, you're able to vote as soon as you're released. In other states, you might have to complete a term of probation or parole before you are eligible to vote again.

Finally, in nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming — convicted felons risk permanently losing their right to vote.

What to Do If Your Voting Rights Have Been Violated

Student voting rights are important. If you think your voting rights have been violated, you can advocate for yourself with the help of voting rights organizations and government officials.

Those who feel they've been unfairly disenfranchised should contact their county clerk's office and the Department of Justice.

If you have a disability, the county clerk will be able to provide voting accommodations for you. They can also give information on how to ensure your vote gets cast and counted.

Advocacy organizations, such as those listed below, can further protect your voting rights and help you find remedies if your rights have been violated.

  • This website maintains an easy-to-use tool for finding the contact information for your county clerk's office and other relevant government offices.
  • American Civil Liberties Union: The ACLU is the premier civil rights advocacy organization in the U.S. This group can help you fight for your legal rights as a voter, especially if you've been unjustly disenfranchised.
  • Election Protection: This site provides in-depth information about what steps to take and whom to contact if your voting rights have been violated.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.