Voting is a crucial part of the electoral process, and with mid-term elections fast approaching, out-of-state students will have to navigate a complicated system of absentee voting.
Absentee voting gives anyone who can’t vote in person – such as out-of-state college students – an opportunity to make their voice heard.
Michael Burns, the director for the Campus Vote Project based in Washington D.C, said students face special challenges when trying to register and vote in their college communities.
“Students in particular start out as a slightly younger cohort, new to the process, and (they) can get easily derailed," Burns said. "If you’re going away to college, you might be going away to a new state, and you have to learn those (voting and registration) rules for that state.”
Every state has different requirements and standards for receiving an absentee ballot. However, each state does have some form of absentee or early voting available. For the seven states that don't have an absentee voting option, any qualified voter can participate in early voting prior to Election Day.
All mail voting is also an option in three states, where a ballot is mailed to every registered voter with no request or application needed. However, for absentee voting, some states require a clear reason for why an absentee ballot is necessary.
Jon Sherman,senior counsel for the Campus Vote Project and Arizona’s liaison to the Fair Elections Center, said the absentee voting process can be difficult for students.
“There’s a complexity to the process," Sherman said. "There can be ID issues. There can be restrictions on casting a ballot by absentee or mail if you are a first time voter, especially if you didn’t register in person."
Millennials made up about 27 percent of the eligible voting population in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, and yet the young adult demographic consistently turns out to vote less.
Sherman said some elections are decided by just a handful of votes.
"It happens every year," Sherman said. "In 2000, the presidential election was decided by something like 538 votes in Florida. If all those people had the view that 'my vote doesn’t count,' then the race might have gone the other way."
There are early deadlines to request a ballot in time for elections, meaning that students who plan to vote absentee must talk to their home state or territorial office early on.
Wendy Underhill, the director of elections and redistricting in Arizona for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said every vote counts.
“I’ve been voting for years," Underhill said. "It’s habit for me. I could never stop. As soon as young adults and new voters begin to vote, I’m certain they won’t stop either. Every voter has a voice.”