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The Ins & Outs Of Absentee Voting In College

At WVU, only 41.6% of undergraduate students are from the state of West Virginia. The majority of students will be traveling home to the polls for Election Day, sending in their absentee ballots or mail-in voting. For these students, it’s important to be educated on their states’ requirements when utilizing absentee ballots and mail-in voting.

For many college students, traveling home to vote isn’t an option. Election Day isn’t a day given off, and requesting off doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll have that day free. The expenses of traveling home, making the trip in one day and waiting in election lines can deter many students from participating in their civic duty. So, we turn to absentee ballots in order to cast our votes, sometimes without much knowledge about how they work. 

An absentee ballot is a ballot sent in when you cannot make it to the polls. The term mail-in voting broadly refers to all ballots sent in by mail. Some states require verification of identity to vote by absentee ballot. You’ll need to include the last four digits of your social security number or your driver's license number. Not all states require this because states differ on what an accepted absentee ballot includes and excludes. Different states have different requirements for absentee voting that you must follow for your vote to be counted. 

One type of absentee ballot requires you to provide a valid excuse for not voting in-person on election day. These excuses include:

  • If you are out of jurisdiction

  • If you have a physical illness or disability

  • If you cannot participate for work related reasons, education purposes (ex. college), military reasons, religious reasons

  • If you are an election official

  • If you are elderly 

  • If you are participating in a confidentiality program

This is the total list of accepted excuses for absentee ballots. Some of the states that require excused absentee ballots include West Virginia, New York, South Carolina and Tennessee. A total of 16 states use this type of absentee voting. However, it is important to note that not every state will accept all of these excuses.  

29 states and Washington D.C. do not require excused absences and allow you to vote by absentee ballot, even if you can make it to the polls. You still have to request the absentee ballots and there may be different voter identification requirements. 

Other states, such as Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, Washington and Oregon only require you to request an absentee ballot if you need it mailed to another address. This is because these states hold elections entirely by mail, so ballots are mailed automatically. 

It’s important to double check that your ballot isn’t thrown out due to voter errors. Common errors found in a study were people’s failure to sign, signing in the wrong place and improper packaging. Your ballot can also be disqualified if it is not mailed in time or because of administrative errors that are beyond the voter’s control.

You can check your state’s requirements for absentee voting on Vote.Org

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Edited by Kenzie Dye