Close-up of absentee voter ballot form with I Voted Today sticker roll in foreground

What Parents and College Kids Need to Know About Absentee Voting

By Wendi Aarons

This fall my oldest son Sam heads out of state to college. At least, he will be as of this writing. We all know how plans can change due to the current COVID-19 pandemic in our country. It’s important to him that he gets to vote–it’ll be his first time! So how can he and other college kids make sure they get their ballot and their vote is counted?

Here’s my tip sheet on what college kids (and their parents) need to know about voting in 2020:

First, Make Sure You’re Registered to Vote

You may think you’re registered, but it never hurts to check because sometimes the voter rolls get purged. Maybe even double-check. Here’s where you can make sure you’re registered. (It takes under one minute to do … my editor timed it herself.)

I’m Registered to Vote in the State Where I’m Attending College

Great! You’re good to go. But pro tip: find out what’s on your ballot before you head to the polling place. Vote411 can help you with that. Then find out where your polling place is because it may have changed due to the pandemic, or even unexpectedly closed. has a great polling place locator for you to check, then double-check again closer to Election Day. (Yes, I’m a big fan of double-checking because this is important!)

I’m Registered to Vote in My Home State, But Going to School In a Different State. Where Do I Vote?

You can live in two states, but only vote in one state. If you are registered in the state where your permanent address is (most likely your parents’ address), that’s where you are supposed to vote.

But I Can’t Get Home to Vote. What Are My Options?

You have a couple. First, you can register to vote in the state where you’re going to school. If there’s still time to do so, of course, because each state has a different registration deadline. Per “Check with the state your school is in for more details on registration requirements, how to register and, of course, how to vote. You can generally find this information through a state’s Secretary of State website or the Board of Elections.” I also recommend finding registration info here: Vote Save America

If you’re not willing or able to do that, or if you’d prefer to keep your vote in your home state because you’re more familiar with local candidates, you’ll need to vote “absentee.”

Okay, Got It, But How Do I Vote “Absentee”? What Even Is It?

Absentee and mail-in voting are the same thing (despite what some recently confused politicians said). It’s basically voting via mail-in ballot before the day of Election Day.

You apply for a mail-in ballot (I’ll tell you how in just a second), then if you’re eligible to vote this way (and you should be because being out of state for college is an accepted reason), your state will mail a ballot to you. You then fill it out and return the ballot in person or by mail before Election Day. Easy, right? Well, kinda.

Please Explain the Requesting a Mail-In Ballot Part

Per Ballotpedia, there are two categories of mail-in voting: 1) automatic mail-in ballot systems, and 2) request-required mail-in ballot systems. It varies by state.

If you’re in a state where it’s automatic, a ballot is sent to your home address you and you don’t need to worry about asking for it. For example, in California, mail-in ballots are sent automatically to all voters for the November 3, 2020, General Election. But in Texas, you have to request an application for a ballot by mail via the Secretary of State’s website well in advance.

Check what your home state requires and its deadline.

I’m Requesting a Mail-In Ballot. Where Will They Send It?

Again, this varies by state. Some states will only send it to your permanent address listed on your voter registration. Some will send it to the address– like your college dorm —  you provide.

If it’s sent to your permanent address, then your parents or whomever lives there will need to forward it to you at college. This is an important thing to know so you can make sure they get it in the mail ASAP and send it to you.

My State Will Send my Absentee Ballot to My College Address, That’s Good, Right?

Well, yes and no. It does mean less back and forth and time. But sending it to your new college address can be problematic, too. You may not know your dorm address in time to get it and send it back. Also, most colleges are cutting back on staff and services due to the pandemic, and that may delay the mail.

That said, I 100% believe that you should have the absentee ballot sent to where your state wants to send your ballot. If you can choose, however,  you may want to have it sent to your permanent address. Then it can be forwarded to you by your parent or caretaker. I’m planning to send Sam’s to him via FedEx after it arrives at our house, then I plan on nagging him until he fills it out and sends it in.

Is It Different This Year Due to COVID?

Yes. In fact, several states have modified their absentee/mail-in voting procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See here for more information about temporary modifications by state.

When Should I Apply/Order the Absentee Ballot?

Now. Let me repeat that: NOW.

The election is in November, but due to state deadlines (shown below) and unanticipated issues with the USPS, you don’t want to leave this until the last minute. It’s expected that there will be a huge uptick in requests for mail-in ballots this year, so that may cause a delay, too. It could take up to 14 days for you to receive and return your forms and ballot.

Per Vote Save America, the earlier you request your ballot, “the more time that election offices and Secretary of State offices have to prepare and make sure that everyone who wants to vote by mail will be able to.”

graphic listing 2020 deadlines by state to request a vote-by-mail ballot by Vote Save America

Source: Vote Save America

Can I Order my Absentee Ballot Online?

It depends on the state.

Surprise. Texas, where I live, allows us to request our form online. But in other states, you need to print, sign, and mail your form. And some states, like Nevada, will send ballots to every registered voter to the address they have on file. You can do all of this at: 

I hope this is helpful and I hope that you and your kids don’t let a little extra work stop you from getting your ballots in. It’s important to our country and our democracy that every vote is counted.

Photo source: Despositphotos/steveheap

About the Author

Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons, The Mouthy Housewives or starting fistfights near the 70% off rack at Target.

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