Students away at college may find themselves missing a lot about home, like their high school buddies, favorite hang-out spots and maybe from time to time, even mom and dad.
For those who plan on voting in the 2012 presidential election in November, you may think you’re going to miss out on that too. It’s very common for students to register to vote at home rather than in State College and come Election Day may struggle casting their vote out of their state or county. These misconceptions can be put to rest with absentee ballots, an opportunity for students not registered near their college town to still have their voice heard during elections.
An Oct. 2009 study of the 2008 presidential election done by The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found there was a high voter turnout rate for both local and absentee voters. At Northwestern University in Illinois, while 79 percent of students cast their ballots after registering locally in their college town, 84 percent of students voted successfully by absentee ballot.
To absentee vote, you must first be registered to vote. You can register wherever you live in the United States by printing out forms available online and mailing them in to a provided address by Oct. 9, 2012. Voter registration is verified by mail with a voter ID card sent to your home. It simply confirms your voting status, including the locality and precinct in which you can vote.
With your voter ID card in hand you may think you’re ready as ever to head to the nearest polling station on Nov. 6 and cast your vote. But being out of state or out of the county you permanently reside in, and most likely are registered to vote in, means you are eligible and required to absentee vote. It’s important to complete the absentee ballot application soon because deadlines are approaching as early as the end of October.
Students often have other pressing deadlines before them , including papers, exams and other campus activities. But State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham stressed in her office the importance for young students to take the time to vote.
“The earlier you register and begin voting, you will think of yourself as a voter and every year you will vote,” Goreham said.
In her humble office in State College’s Municipal Building, Goreham’s large mahogany desk with neat stacks of paper here and there takes up most of the room. An American flag hangs prominently behind her.
Goreham looked up Pennsylvania absentee ballots on her laptop and in seconds found a direct link to the application itself.
Goreham laughed to herself, admitting, “That’s really good you can download the application and just fill it out and mail it in. [Technological access] is a trend that will prevail.”
First, you need to download the online application from the state website where you are originally registered to vote in. After printing out this document, fill in the blanks asking for your general information, including Social Security number, your permanent residence and the residence you are currently in where you would like the absentee ballot to be sent. Once completed, it must be mailed to the address provided no later than Oct. 30. After a few weeks, your state ballot will be sent to you with a return envelope for the County Election Office and the completed ballot must be received by Nov. 2, the Friday before Election Day. At this point, your vote is on its way to being heard.
Although availability of absentee applications vary by states and counties, if you are not able to do the process online, applications can be picked up at select county offices or public libraries. You can also call a county office near you and request for the application to be mailed to your address. Once you have it, you still must mail the completed ballot back to the office by Nov. 2.
However, Goreham explained it may be beneficial to register to vote in your college town, rather than your hometown, to take part not only in national elections but local as well.
The 2012 general election ballot for Pennsylvania will also include candidates for state senators, representatives of the house, and statewide offices, such as attorney general and treasurer.
You can re-register as a Pennsylvania voter by Oct. 9 even if you have already registered in your hometown.
“In terms of our awareness, we know the big national issues and we’re interested in them long before we’re interested in our local issues,” Goreham said.
“There are [local] laws you may want to challenge. If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”