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Should You Change Your Voter Residency for College?

We all know the voting spiel — our participation is essential to a thriving democracy. But as students, we’re not told whether we even can switch our voter registration from our hometown if we move across city or state lines for college. Furthermore, is changing our voting address worth both the hassle and political implications of doing so? 

I’m going to frame my response in the Columbia/Barnard context, but this information certainly applies beyond the Manhattan bubble. 

First things first: as a student in New York state, you are eligible to register to vote based upon your school address! New York election law allows students to establish residency wherever they are living for the time being. Even if you go home during breaks or work elsewhere over the summer, so long as New York is your principal residence, you can vote in state elections. 

Voting in NYC requires residence in the city for over thirty days. Registering here is straightforward; complete your form, then mail it to the Board of Elections. Alternatively, you can show up to your borough’s Board of Elections office to register in person. If you move quickly with your documents, you may even be able to cast a vote in the upcoming mayoral election on November 2. 

(And I’m going to indulge New Yorker supremacy for just a moment to acknowledge the importance of the city’s mayoral race. Each borough alone is larger and more diverse than many major American cities, so political strategists look to the voting patterns among New York City’s constituencies as bellwethers for national elections. Moreover, ranked-choice voting — which New York City utilizes in the mayoral race — is considered vastly more democratic and beneficial for electorates. If you want to participate in something important and effective, register to vote in NYC!)

But I want to qualify the decision to re-register, as the issue is more nuanced than taking the opportunity to vote in a new place for the thrill of change. I come from San Jose, California, and New York’s state electoral patterns generally accord with my home state. San Jose, however, is a multifaceted city that encompasses both extreme tech wealth and deep-seated poverty. I feel strongly about issues in my hometown, especially those regarding education policy, so I’m tentative to relinquish the opportunity to vote absentee on local leaders and propositions.

If I were to move to Georgia, Iowa, or another purple state, it’s possible I’d be working swiftly to change my registration status because I’d have an opportunity to influence results on the nationwide level. That said, I also struggle with any dilemma that pits local policy against national politics. Though the prospect of voting in New York is exciting, I’ve yet to change my voter residency. At the moment, my vote may go further in San Jose, where I can operate based upon greater insight regarding the direct issues facing its population. 

Here’s the long and the short of it: whatever you’re doing, and wherever you’re doing it, make sure you vote in local and national elections. If you’ve not had the chance to vote previously, registering in your college town is a great place to start.

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Dahlia Soussan

Columbia Barnard '25

Dahlia is a first-year at Barnard College in the Double-Degree program with the Jewish Theological Seminary. When not (slightly) panicking about the number of credits she needs to graduate, she enjoys coffee walks, cooking, and reading the NYT Modern Love column. She doesn't know exactly what she wants to study yet, but she hopes her career will include writing and seeking justice for people who've been marginalized.
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