The Guide to Voting

The countdown to this year’s presidential election is on with just over a month to go before Election Day. And while exercising your right to vote is always important, most would agree that the stakes are particularly high this year in the U.S. But being a busy student, away from home, or even out of the country is no excuse for failing to follow through on your civic duty.  We know it may seem like a hassle, but the truth is that not only is voting easier than ever, it’s also well worth the effort.

Voting in Your State of Residence?

Just because you’re voting in your state of residence doesn’t mean you can automatically expect to walk into your local polling place, grab a ballot, flip a few levers, and call it a day.

For starters, most states don’t even allow walk-in registration. Not only that, but registration deadlines vary from state to state. For example, voters in Alaska must be registered by October 9th regardless of whether they’re doing so online, via mail or in person, while voters in Vermont have nearly a full month longer to register. Furthermore, how you plan to register is also a factor with some state deadlines for registration methods varying by as much as a month.

Looking for information on your specific state? Lucky for you, the New York Times has assembled a comprehensive guide of state-by-state deadlines, which also includes handy information about supporting materials you’ll need to register. (Usually, a driver’s license or other state-issued form of identification will suffice.)

Additionally, the U.S. government’s website Vote.gov is a terrific starting point for determining how to register in your state, while Vote.org is also a useful portal for streamlining the registration process.

Voting Outside Your State of Residence?

If you’re planning on being out of your state of residence on voting day, you can utilize Absentee Voting (also known as “mail-in voting” and “by-mail voting”) to cast your ballot.

Depending on the requirements of your state, you can register to receive an absentee ballot to fill out and return. Some even allow early voting and in-person absentee voting. While 21 states require that voters provide an excuse before being permitted to vote by absentee ballot, others — including Washington, D.C. — offer no-excuse absentee voting. (You can check out which category your state falls into here.)

In addition to students who are out of state, other valid excuses for being absent from polling sites on Election Day may include illness, physical disability, religious constraints, public service or membership in the military, age, and even vacation.

Again, the rules regarding absentee voting and early voting depend on the state. Taking time to educate yourself about Absentee Voting and Voting by Mail and Early Voting and In-Person Absentee Voting can help ensure your ability to make good on your constitutional right.