Sunday, September 2, 2012

How to Vote in College

Congratulations, you're 18 years old (or older). You can order off of infomercials, buy lottery tickets, and, as a U.S. citizen, vote. When I matriculated to Tufts, our university president at the time, Larry Bacow gave us a homework assignment. The internet reveals that he gave this homework assignment to previous classes, too: Vote. Vote in the November election, and make voting a lifelong habit. You see, we're Americans. Our nation is responsible for some of the greatest inventions of all time: harnessed electricity, the internet, manned flight. Most importantly, democracy. We did it first, and we're still improving it every day. It's your patriotic duty to help make that happen. So how do you do it from college?

Want to make sure you've done everything on time? Watch out for these deadlines (generalized to worst-case-scenario from a state-by-state fact-sheet):

  • Register to Vote by October
  • Request Absentee Ballot by October
  • Return Absentee Ballot by November 

The more you have to do, the sooner you should be getting this done. If you're voting by mail, for example, that has to arrive in early November or your vote won't count. But not to stress; it's September, perfect timing for getting everything set up in advance. Let's walk through the process:

Pick a State
If you're going to Tufts, you have a choice: Register to vote in your home state (you may have done so already), or register to vote in Massachusetts. You can go either way. If you're interested in making your vote "matter" the most, check out CountMore, where you can see which state is a closer toss-up in the coming election.

Once you've picked a location, you've got to register. Rock the Vote can help you there. In short, you want to do this as soon as possible - for instance, right now. The deadline for most states is October, but don't wait for that; you have more to do afterward. For now, click through the steps on the site, print the final product, and mail it in where it tells you. The only cost is the stamp on the envelope.

Request an Absentee Ballot
Unless you live near your local polling place (e.g., you go to Tufts and you're a resident of Somerville anyway), you want to vote by mail. For some states (like Pennsylvania), this is the most annoying part. You have to (1) mail in a request, (2) get mailed back a ballot, and (3) mail in your votes on the ballot. That's a lot of mail, and it takes weeks. This means you can't wait for November.

Let's fill it out right now. You'll start over at Long Distance Voter (unless you're overseas; in which case, see Voting from Abroad). Find the section on absentee ballots and fill out the online form. Print out the product, and mail that in. You'll get your absentee ballot in October.

Voting from Abroad
Out of the country (in, say, Scotland for the semester?) Your solution is Vote from Abroad. Fill it out, and you'll get a ballot mailed (or, in some cases, emailed - wow, that's high tech for the government!) to you. You've still gotta send it back, but at least they're letting you vote, right? Go fill out the online thing. We'll wait for you. (Or, skip right to the government site,

Once you get your ballot in the mail, fill it out and send it back. It's too east to forget about those things if you leave 'em lying around. If you did this right, you're mailing it back in mid-October, well before the November election. Or, for in-person voters, once election day rolls around, go out and vote.

Want more resources? Check out TuftsVotes for info, or go ask the friendly people at Tisch College of Citizenship.

It's that easy. Register, (Request Ballot,) and Vote. Why can't we register online? Why can't we request ballots online? Why can't we vote online? I have no idea. Maybe someone thinks its not reliable or secure. Because the U.S. Postal Service is real reliable, and we don't trust computers with anything secure, like nuclear launch codes.

But that's for another post. Happy voting!

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