Know Your Voting Rights

October 02, 2008

By Chandra Palmer, AAUW Fellow

The voter registration process can be a complex, frustrating, and confusing process for college students who are striving to be model, voting citizens. Students living in college housing often do not have the kinds of documents required to show residency, such as a utility bill with their college street address.

Misinformation is a huge challenge. According to Inside Higher Ed, the registrar of elections in Montgomery County, Virginia — the location of Virginia Tech —issued a notice to local college students saying that registering to vote locally means “you have declared your independence from your parents and can no longer be claimed as a dependent on their income tax filings — a change in status that could affect scholarship money.” Similarly, the Examiner reported that an election official in Colorado Springs incorrectly told out-of-state college students they could not register to vote if their parents could claim them as a dependent in another state.

I have had my own fair share of personal woes with the voter registration process. In 2004, excited about voting in my first election, I registered to vote in early August in my hometown because I didn’t meet the residency laws in the town where I was attending college. I knew I wouldn’t make it home to vote, so I decided I would vote absentee. No big deal right? Wrong! The process of obtaining an absentee ballot in the state of Illinois is complicated, and you must read the fine print. It turns out that in Illinois, if you’re a first time voter, you must either register in person or vote in person. Since I had a registered online, I had to vote in person, but by the time I found that out there was no way I could get home to vote.

Since I voted in person for the midterm elections in 2006, I can now vote absentee in this election, although I have no clue if my vote will be actually counted, if my ballot will be tampered with, or if I will receive my ballot at all. But this time I’m taking a proactive approach. I have a called to confirm that the registrar received my application. I know when my ballot should be coming in the mail, and if I don’t receive it by that day, you’d better believe my county clerk will be getting a phone call from me!

Yes, I know there are rules and regulations for registering to vote, but there is NO WAY anyone should be denied this important right. We, the generation of young voters, must take a stand and be proactive. There are many great sources of reliable information on voter registration. Know your legal rights as a voter, along with the identification, residency, registration, and absentee requirements for your state. Don’t allow yourself to be misinformed. Be a part of this historic election!

Registration deadlines are quickly approaching, so please check out these websites for student voter information: AAUW’s Voter Guides, the Brennan Center for Justice, Harvard University Institute of Politics, Rock the Vote, Go College, and the League of Women Voters.

Chandra Palmer is a 2008 fall fellow at AAUW in the Leadership and Training Institute department. She is currently a M.A. candidate at the University of Denver where she is studying international development, environmental policy, and gender policy discourse. She attended Illinois College where she studied international relations, French, and political science. Chandra hopes to seek a career path with the possibilities of international travel because she is has not seen enough of the world yet!

By:   |   October 02, 2008


  1. Shang Gao says:

    If you have exactly a minute to spare, this is a PSA submitted to the NC Center for Voter Education encouraging younger voters to vote:

  2. Flora Gray says:

    Shang, thank you for sharing your video. I had a conversation with a neighbor about her 22-year-old brother-in-law who says he will probably NOT vote. Maybe a message like yours will reach him.

  3. jeanne lese says:

    “The screening or trimming of voter registration lists in the six states — Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day. . . .”

    The New York Times
    October 9, 2008
    States’ Actions to Block Voters Appear Illegal

    [editors note: in the interest of space, full text of the linked article was removed]

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