AMA: Yes, student, you should register to vote where you go to college


The Monroe County Voter Registration Office, 401 W. 7th St., Bloomington, as viewed from the corner of 7th and Madison. It’s the brick building with the white stairwell on the right. Despite Google’s marking, the street visible in this picture is Madison; across that street from the office, in the orange building, used to be a business called “Dog Do.”

Q: I’m a college student. Should I vote in the place where I’m going to college?
     — Not From These Here Parts

The short answer
A: Everyone over the age of 18 should register to vote. Yes, you should register to vote where you’re living right now. Yes, if you’re registered somewhere else, you should transfer it to vote where you’re living right now. Yes, that means college students too. There is a little more than a week left to register to vote in Indiana before the presidential election. If you possess an Indiana drivers’ license, you can register online. If not, you have to fill out this form and mail it or drop it off at the Monroe County Voter Registration Office. The 2016 deadline to register in Indiana is next Tuesday, October 11, at noon.

The details

I love this question, NFTHP, because the answer should be a lot plainer than it turns out to be. College students frequently wonder: I’m not from this town where I go to school…should I register to vote here?

The answer is YES, ABSOLUTELY. You DO live “here,” in the house, apartment or dorm which is your address while you’re attending college.

Everyone who counts — literally — considers you to be a resident of the place where you are going to college. The Census counts you at your “usual residence,” not back home.  The federal and states’ governments count where people are, not where their bills go, because services need to be rendered where the warm bodies are. The City of Bloomington also provides many services — bus transit, water treatment, regulation and inspection of rental properties, police and fire protection to name a few — that affect you every day. You can vote for me, run for city council, and hold the office that I do currently.

A person may have several residences. A person’s residence for the purpose of paying taxes may well be different from where they are currently living, and different from where a public college determines their status for in-state tuition.

Yes, you are a local. Your voting residence should be your usual residence, not your parents’ usual residence. Even if you were back there all summer, this is now where you spend most of your time.

You may now be asking: yes, but do I have to vote here? What if I want to vote “back home”? Answer: you have the choice.

Advice from the Provost: not so helpful

IU has made some effort to get students to take part in the electoral process. This page from the IU Registrar (who, despite being a state agency, does not literally manage registration of voters) shows that students can pick up the self-mailing form to register to vote, without needing to find an envelope (because who still uses paper mail?) at Student Central on Union and at the Wells Library.

However, this student voting guide from the IU Office of the Provost is misleading, because it’s slightly inaccurate and unspecific. It features two big buttons, “Register to vote online” and “Download Indiana voter registration form.” Underneath the title of each button, it says, “For in-state students.” The buttons imply that students who pay out-of-state tuition shouldn’t use these buttons. But we just established in the first half of this post that they totally can.

When IU uses the phrase “in-state student,” it means “in-state for the purpose of determining tuition.” It does not mean “for the purpose of determining voter registration.” A student in the state for college is a resident of Indiana and can vote here (see above), regardless of their tuition-residence statusThe buttons should be changed to reflect this truth.

UPDATE: You can register offline using an IU student ID. Because it doesn’t have an address on it as a driver’s license would, you’ll have to make sure to bring some document or printout that has your local address — a utility bill, or an RPS bill.

Says Linda Robbins, former Monroe County Clerk, “All new registrations will require proof of address, unfortunately — not just IU students. Online registrations are limited to what the state has in its IT system at the present time. Therefore, other accepted IDs at the polls, such as a military ID, passport, [or from] IU, won’t be accepted online since they don’t have that information.”

Again, your voting residence does not need to be the same as your tuition residence. If you are a student, you may register to vote in Indiana, period. If you’re from someplace else in Indiana, Monroe County is your home now.

In fact, no state requires more than 30 days’ residency before they allow you to register to vote there. You could literally move here next Saturday, October 8, and be able to vote here on Tuesday, November 8. If you’re a typical IU student, you’ve been here for a couple of months longer than that at least.

Another in-fact: you can vote anywhere in the country you like as long as you’ve spent at least 30 days in, and registered in, that place before the election you want to vote in. Next year, after you’ve voted here, you could re-register to vote in a primary “back home.” Your voting residence, tuition residence, taxing residence, and your usual residence do not affect each other by being different from each other.

Complete information on registering to vote in Indiana here. So, yes, NFTHP, you should do so. You still have a week. Go make me proud.

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