Despite recent disruptions to the living arrangements of many of the nation’s nearly 20 million college students, they can and should vote this fall—and they generally have the option to do so where they attend school. That’s the bottom line from new research led by a University of Maryland government and politics professor, published with colleagues in a special issue of Election Law Journal.
“It’s important for students to know that they can register and vote at their last college address even if they are displaced and don’t have an ongoing lease or know exactly where they will live when they return to their college town,” said Mike Hanmer, who also serves as the research director of UMD’s Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement.
However, he said, election laws vary widely by state with regard to proof of residency and requesting absentee or mail-in ballots, so students need to do their homework and come up with a game plan for voting either in their hometowns or college towns.
Students uncomfortable voting in person should find out what other choices are available in their states, Hanmer said. For example, 16 states require voters to provide an excuse for requesting an absentee ballot, and in some, fear of contracting an illness does not qualify. In Maryland, by contrast, voters do not need to provide a reason to request an absentee ballot but do have to meet certain identification requirements if they register by mail.
Ultimately, the researchers emphasize the importance of providing resources to help students make these important decisions in time to cast their ballots in the 2020 election.
“With COVID-19, many of the standard activities, such as registration tabling at student unions and the distribution of voter registration applications, will be limited or impossible. But much can still be done,” Hanmer said. “We believe the most efficient and effective way to serve students and avoid chaos and confusion is for each state to provide specific guidance for student registration and voting during the pandemic.”