How do college students vote out of state? Most college voters already have a heap of other responsibilities begging for their attention, and navigating elections while living in two states at once can prove challenging. Our guide will walk you through why college voting is important and how to vote as a college student living away from home.
In spring 2023, about 16.9 million students attended colleges and universities across the United States. Of that number, about 14.2 million students were pursuing an undergraduate degree. These millions of students make up a significant portion of the electorate — one whose unique perspective needs to be heard in our democracy. College voters who attend school in a different state from their pre-college home have important choices to make about how they will make their voices heard.
Here are two core reasons why college voting is so important:
Young people are underrepresented in the American government.
Becoming civically engaged now forms a habit of voting and political activism.
First, college voting matters because of the lack of youth representation in the American government. Especially at the federal level, our elected leaders tend to be older than the average American adult — a trend that has led many to label America a gerontocracy. These older Americans often have different policy priorities than young people, and can struggle to identify with the needs of younger generations.
This problem is compounded by the fact that in general, older Americans turn out to vote at higher rates than younger Americans. In the 2020 presidential election, the group with the highest voter turnout was those between ages 65-74. The group with the lowest voter turnout was the youngest, those between ages 18-24. When college students register to vote and send in their ballots, they help to make it known that the voices of younger generations matter. College students can also push back against the lack of youth representation by running for political office themselves.
Second, college voting is important because it can feed into a lifelong habit of voting. If you get into the habit of voting in local and national elections now, you will be more likely to continue to do so in the future. Deciding to participate in elections is also a great way to make sure you’re staying up to date with the latest news and issues, whether in your home state or in your new college community.
College students often find themselves in the tricky situation of living in two places at once. You have one address at home, and another address at school. Having dual residency in two states isn’t a unique situation, as many students and non-students can relate to this issue. The bottom line is that you can live in two states, but you can only vote in one state.
Where you decide to vote is largely up to you. For both in-state and out-of-state college students, you have the option of maintaining your voter registration at your pre-college home address. If you go this route, you can either travel home to vote or request an absentee ballot to vote without leaving your college campus. The other option for out-of-state students is to register to vote in the state where you attend school.
How do you decide where you want to place your ballot? Here are a few factors to take into consideration:
The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement found that between 2012 and 2018, out-of-state college students were consistently less likely to vote than in-state students. They also found that of out-of-state students, those who were registered to vote in their campus state were more likely to vote than those registered in their home state. With these voting statistics in mind, think about what method will make you the most likely to vote on election day. The end goal, remember, is being able to participate in the democratic process.
Many students attending college away from home have the experience of transitioning back and forth between different states. Think about the two places where you live and study, and about the local issues impacting both communities. Which town, county, and state’s future leadership do you want to have the greater say in? Where do you feel you can make the most significant impact? While both communities may matter to you, you only choose one to vote in.
In presidential elections, there may be a level of strategy at play in deciding which state you want to vote in. Ask yourself if either of the states you could vote in — your pre-college state and the state where you attend school — are battleground or swing states. If you’re from Pennsylvania and now you attend college in California, for instance, you may strategically decide to vote in Pennsylvania (knowing that Pennsylvania is a swing state, while California is considered a safe Democratic state). This strategy involves casting your ballot where you feel your vote will have the most impact.
Overall, specific guidelines for student voting will vary from state to state. Remember to check the voting guidelines in the state in whose elections you plan to vote, not just in the state where you are now.
The Campus Vote Project provides helpful resources and answers to your voting questions; just click on your state and learn about upcoming voter registration deadlines, ways to vote, and more. You can also visit the website of your local board of elections or secretary of state for more information, or check out this helpful guide to updating your voter registration. Your campus may even provide resources for voting in upcoming elections.
While we can’t cover how to vote as a student in all 50 states, here is how to vote as an out-of-state college student in the three states with the highest number of college and university students:
Did you know that California is home to more college students than any other state? In spring 2023, California had over 2 million college students. Whether you’re at the University of California, the University of Southern California, or another school, here’s what you need to know as a college voter in California:
As a student in California, you can choose whether you want to register to vote at your home address or at your college address.
The California voter registration deadline is 15 days before the election you hope to participate in. You can check your registration status or register to vote online here.
California primarily conducts elections by mail. Every active, registered California voter will be mailed a ballot ahead of election day. You can track your absentee ballot here. Absentee voting is a great option if you are attending school in a different county than the one you live in.
The state of Texas is home to over 1.3 million college students, including students at Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Houston. Here’s what you need to know as a college voter in Texas:
As a student in Texas, you can choose whether you want to register to vote at your home address or at your college address.
The Texas voter registration deadline is 30 days before the election you hope to participate in. You can check your registration status or register to vote here.
You can request an absentee ballot if you meet certain qualifications, including if you expect to be out of the county during election day and early voting. Absentee voting is a great option if you are attending school in a different Texas county than the one you live in.
New York is home to almost 1 million college students. Whether you’re at New York University, Columbia University, the University of Buffalo, or another institution, here’s how to vote as a college student in New York:
As a student in New York, you can choose whether you want to register to vote at your home address or at your college address.
The New York voter registration deadline depends on whether you register by mail or online. If you register to vote online, you must do so at least 10 days ahead of election day. If you send in your registration application by mail, it must be postmarked at least 15 days ahead of election day. If you want to change your address, you must also do so 15 days or more before election day. You can register to vote here.
You can vote absentee in New York if you have an excuse, including if you will be outside of the county in which you are registered on election day. Voting by mail is a great option if you are attending school in a different county in New York than the one you live in.
No matter where you live or study, you’ll also want to check the voter ID requirements of the state in which you plan to vote. In some states, including North Carolina, you may be able to use your college student ID as a valid form of identification at the polling place.
Voting while attending a college or university can be a confusing process, but with the right information, you can vote and make your voice heard easily. College students’ voting rights are as important as all other Americans’, so don’t hesitate to ask questions and seek answers until you find the best voting strategy for you.
If you’re ready to take your civic participation beyond voting, you can also join the Good Party community. Whether you join the growing Good Party Discord, sign up for our weekly newsletter, or volunteer, you’ll become a part of a rising movement for change. We’re working to disrupt the corrupt two-party system and bring people back to the center of our democracy. Learn more by following us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or Facebook.
Image Credit: Phil Scroggs