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A College Student & First-Time Voter’s Guide To Registration & Election Day

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Election Day 2024 is right around the corner, with general elections occurring on Nov. 5. While politics may not be the most calming thing to discuss, it is undeniably important — especially right now. Given the current state of America’s democracy, it’s crucial now more than ever that your voice is heard as the upcoming generation in this country. Voting in an upcoming election means that your ballot can help determine the future of laws surrounding abortion rights and reproductive justice as well as gun violence prevention. Your voice in the political atmosphere of the U.S. does not stop at voting, but it most definitely begins with your ballot. 

For some of you in college, this might be the first election you’re participating in, which can be intimidating. Don’t worry. Follow these steps and take the time to read through the right resources, and you’ll be ready to take on the polls this election season. 

How to register to vote 

The first step to voting is the registration process. If you’ve missed this year’s voter registration or are preparing for next year’s presidential election, visit the official U.S. voter registration website to know what you need to register, and registration deadlines or to check important days you might not want to miss. 

Getting ready to vote 

Once you’ve registered to vote by the required voter registration day, you can expect to receive a mailer. Mailers are sent out by state and local governments to all registered voters. Each mailer will contain information about the electoral candidates. If you’d like to learn more about the candidates on your ballot, before receiving your mailer, you can research your ballot information on this online database

Additionally, most public and state universities will host college and voter fairs that allow candidates to come out and speak to students before Election Day. So, if you attend one of these universities and want to learn more about the fairs, visit your campus events office or page on your school’s website to see if any political tours are heading to your campus or a nearby college.  

In-state, out-of-state, & the absentee ballot

As a college student, you can register to vote either in your home state or out-of-state (in the state your college is in) but you cannot be registered to vote in both. So, you’re going to need to choose how to vote. If you have not previously registered to vote, you can register with your college’s state address. Or if you have previously registered to vote, you can change the address so that you can vote in person. 

But if you’ve previously registered to vote using your home state address, you can still vote via an absentee ballot. An absentee ballot is a ballot that you will receive in the mail. You fill it out like a normal ballot and mail it back. To register for an absentee ballot, visit the Absentee Voting guidance on the U.S. voter registration website. 

As you’re registering, another important aspect to consider is that your vote may hold more weight in one state vs another. The nitty-gritty of electoral votes by state can be tricky to determine if you’re hoping your vote could contribute to a potential election swing. This interactive voter map from WiseVoter details electoral votes by state and can help you finalize your choice. 

Can you vote at college? 

While the more common form of voting in college might be the absentee ballot, you can vote in person. Each state has a designated polling place, the physical location where you will go to vote. The average hours for each polling place often range from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but you’ll want to check your specific location. What happens if you’re in line and the polling place closes? Don’t worry. As long as you are in line before the end of the polling shift, you will still be allowed to vote. 

For more specific details about your state, visit this section of the official U.S. voter registration website. There are also websites that will help you find your local polling place.

What to expect on Election Day

You’ve registered, checked in with your polling place, or mailed in your absentee ballot. Now, it’s Election Day. The rules and requirements for Election Day voting vary from state to state. For example, each state sets its own voter ID requirements. Check out the National Conference of State Legislatures guidance.

If you’re worried about trying to remember all the candidates you want to vote for, don’t worry. You don’t need to have them memorized. You’re allowed to bring your notes, a voter’s guide, or a sample ballot into the voting booth. Some polling places restrict cell phones inside the booth, so be sure to have physical copies of everything with you.  

Also, depending on the state you live in, it may be illegal to take a picture of your ballot. So to be safe, if you want to grab a photo to post on your Instagram story, you can take a picture of yourself in front of the polling place or with your “I Voted” sticker once your ballot has been cast. 

Election Day seems intimidating at first. There’s a lot to consider in order to make an informed decision at the polls, but don’t worry! Take the time to research and educate yourself about the candidates on your ballot to make registering and voting on Election Day successful. 

Kaitlynne Rainne is a HER Campus National Writer on the Life and Career team and she writes about advice, life experiences and profiles. Born and raised in Belize, Kaitlynne grew up surrounded by culture and stories. They fueled a creative passion for storytelling that led her to Savannah, Georgia, where she completed her BFA in Fashion Design at SCAD. She is currently completing her MFA in Writing at SCAD with a focus on creative nonfiction, freelance writing and fiction. Outside of HER Campus, Kaitlynne also works as Editor-in-Chief at her school’s college newspaper, District. Her work has also been published in Port City Review and Square 95. In her free time, you can find Kaitlynne taking walks throughout Savannah, making oddly specific playlists on Spotify, sipping a vanilla chai, writing her novel, or spending time with her friends.