The College Student’s Guide to Voting


Courtesy of Google
Courtesy of Google

by Kate Dolgenos

Contributing writer

  1. Determine if you’re eligible.

To vote, you must be an American citizen and 18 before election day. That means if your 18th birthday is between now and November 8, you can and should register to vote!

It is a common misconception that people convicted of a felony cannot vote. This is actually not true in most states. In all but the most restrictive states, your right to vote is restored after your incarceration, parole, and probation. California’s requirements are looser: your right to vote is restored automatically after your incarceration and parole. However, you have to register to vote again even if you were registered before your conviction.

Misdemeanor convictions never affect your right to vote in California, even if you are in county jail. They don’t affect your right to vote in most other states, either. The exceptions – Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and DC – only restrict people who are currently incarcerated or have committed certain crimes related to election fraud.

If you have been judged incompetent by a court, you are ineligible to vote in every state.


  1. Register to vote.

Before you can cast your ballot, you have to register to vote. If you don’t know whether you are registered, you can check here.

Registration deadlines are different in every state. California requires you to register by October 24. To find your home state’s registration deadline, click here. (If you miss your home state’s deadline, don’t worry! Just register in California.)

If you are away from your home state, you can still register to vote there! You have two options: Register online, or register by mail.

To register, visit After you fill out a short form, you can choose whether to register online or by mail. The site will either re-direct you to a website where you can register to vote online or help you fill out a registration form that you can mail. The website streamlines the process by telling you where to mail the form and what ID, if any, is needed.

Every state except Florida, Idaho, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming allows voters to register online. However, registering online often requires a driver’s license from the state you’re registering in. If you don’t have one, it can be easier to register by mail. Most states allow you to register by mail using a driver’s license, non-driver’s state ID, or Social Security Number.

You can register to vote even if you’re studying abroad using the Overseas Vote Foundation’s website.


  1. Request your absentee ballot.

If you are voting in person in California, you can skip this step! (Registered California voters can vote by mail in California by filling out this application.)

If you plan to vote by mail in your home state, you have to request an absentee ballot after you register to vote. The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is different in each state; to find your state’s deadline, click here. (Note: There can be problems processing absentee ballot requests, so try to request your ballot well before the deadline!)

VotePlz.Org will help you fill out an absentee ballot request and tell you where to mail it.


  1. Vote!

If you’re voting in person in California, you do not have to bring ID to the polls unless you registered by mail or online and it is your first time voting in a federal election. Other states have stricter in-person voting requirements; you can check them here.

If you don’t know where your polling place, you can check by entering your address at Vote411.Org. 

If you are voting with an absentee ballot, mail it in soon after you receive it to make sure your vote counts! The address where you mail it depends on what county you live in; you will learn the address when you receive your ballot.


  1. Issues With Voting

If you encounter a problem while voting in person, speak with a poll worker about casting a provisional ballot. Every voter who believes they are eligible is entitled to cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted if it is determined that you met the registration requirements of your state. If you are in line when the polls close, you have the right to vote.

If you are voting with an absentee ballot and have questions, consult the confirmation email from VotePlz.Org to find your local election official’s phone number.

You should also report voter complaints to your state. Each state has a different system for this; California’s voter complaint forms can be found here.

Lastly, if you are prevented from voting, call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Happy Voting, Everyone!


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