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Riley Linebaugh is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. Follow her @rileysline.

One of the more optimistic opinions forecasting the 2020 presidential election suggests that college students might play a deciding factor in its outcome. This Business Insider piece from last August suggests that the thin margins in the 2016 election could indicate that the turnout of college voters could have a significant impact this November. Author Daniel Cox, a research fellow for polling and public opinion, states that “a large number of college students, particularly female students, are motivated and believe the next election will be the most significant of their lives.” One of the many ways of encouraging voters to vote is to provide all the information necessary for them to do so. This post discusses absentee voting for those who live outside their home state or those who would simply prefer to vote remotely.

Your Right to Vote From the Comfort of Home

In 2018, the voters of my home state, Michigan, agreed by a clear majority to create state constitutional rights to certain voting policies by voting in favor of Proposal 3 in Michigan’s state elections. These policies include automatic voter registration upon applying for/renewing state identification, last-minute registration and ballot requests through Election Day, and the right to obtain an absentee voter ballot without providing a reason. Supporters of the proposal, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that it would also help to prevent fraud through auditing processes and help those with time constraints to vote. The proposal was aimed at increasing voter registration and turnout and better ensuring free and fair elections. It will be put to the test this year during the primary elections in March followed by the November presidential election.

I first looked up Proposal 3 in 2018 after receiving my Michigan absentee ballot through the mail. I sat in my university office and spent the afternoon in front of the computer reading through the proposals and information regarding all candidates, at the level of local school board all the way up to State Senate. It was the most evenly informed vote I ever cast. Voting absentee not only enabled my vote in the first place, as a Michigander living abroad, but also provided an environment that I preferred. I was able to choose the time I put aside for the task and then do so deliberately and without hurry. I am not alone. The number of voters who voted early, absentee or by mail rose from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016. With primaries beginning in less than a month, now is the time to consider whether absentee voting is the right option for you.



Though every state has an absentee voting option, the rules regarding eligibility and process can vary. In some states, an excuse is required for voting absentee, such as absence from the county/state of registration, religious observance or overseas employment. However, most states (plus the District of Columbia) do not require any excuse to supply a voter with an absentee ballot. Check out these tools to find up-to-date absentee voting regulations in your state: “Can I Vote” from the National Association of the Secretaries of State and this table of state laws on absentee voting compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Check the Requirements of Your State

Most states require that you are registered to vote before you request an absentee ballot. You can check this list for your state’s exact rules. You will then request your ballot by providing at least the following information: name, address that corresponds to your registration, contact information and your date of birth. Each state has its own application form. You can find yours through this search engine.

Apply for an Absentee Ballot … On Time

In my case, Michigan requires that I fill out an application form that in addition to the above information asks for the jurisdiction in which I’m registered. I should also specify which ballots I’d like to receive per mail. I can even request to receive all further absentee ballots if I intend to stay at my new address for longer. As with any bureaucratic process, following the rules is key. Be sure to use the writing utensil specified, sign and date the form, and correctly address the application to the appropriate clerk’s office. These instructions should be listed on the forms provided to you. Think of it as a homework assignment with high reward.

I will send my application through the mail, but you are also often able to bring it in person yourself or by an approved "assistant" such as a family or household member.

In my experience, the most important consideration in voting absentee is knowing when the deadlines are and sending your application in on time so that you can receive the ballot and postmark its return on time. That means knowing when the primary election dates are, the timeline in your state and the important due dates in the process. Here is a list of relevant dates depending on where you are registered to vote.

Filling Out the Ballot

Depending on whether your state has an open primary or not, your ballot will include more or fewer options for your consideration. If you intend to vote in the primary election, I’m sure you have more than enough sources to inform your opinion. I’ve found The Washington Post’s compilations on where different Democratic candidates stand on a particular issues, such as this one on student debt, to be helpful.

If you still have questions regarding voting absentee or generally, I’d recommend this infographic and the recent New York Times voting info guide.

If you’re committed to getting out the vote, please feel free to share this and any other information about the many different options people have in doing so.

[Opening image by Nicolas Lampert used in accordance with Justseeds Downloadable Graphics Guidelines. Absentee table graphic from National Conference of State Legislatures]

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