Student Voting Guide | FAQ
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding what can happen to students when they register and vote. This section addresses and dispells some of the more frequently asked questions about residency, financial aid, tuition, taxes, insurance and car registration.
Should you have additional questions or if you would like to report problems at the polls on Election Day, contact 866-OUR-VOTE.
Every state in the union requires voters to have some sort of connection to a particular locale before they can vote there-to be a "resident," or an "inhabitant," or to regularly live or sleep at an address in the district. Your residency in a particular state is legally meaningful in a number of different ways-it affects where you can be sued in court, where you have to pay taxes, where you can get married or divorced, where you have to register your car, and so on. Although residence is determined in similar ways for many of these purposes, different states apply different rules for different kinds of residency, so you can end up being a resident for one purpose but not for another. This guide describes the rules governing residency for voting purposes, both for students who want to vote where they attend college and for students who want to vote where they lived before school.
Some states base their voting residency laws on "domicile." Domicile is usually defined as more than residence. In order to establish domicile, you must intend to make a place your home, and not just physically live there. Even when the word "domicile" isn't used in defining where you can vote, the concept of legal residence for voting may rely a lot on ideas about domicile. There are two things that can be tricky for students about establishing domicile at a school address. First, there's usually a presumption against changing your domicile, meaning that you usually keep your old domicile until you gain a new one, even if you've moved out of your old domicile. Under these guidelines, most students' default domicile is their parents' house. Second, in order to establish a new domicile you often need to assert an intention to remain somewhere permanently or indefinitely, in other words, to make it your permanent home.
There's a presumption in the law that your old domicile continues until you establish a new one. Basically, once you have a formal, fixed home where you can be said to live, that home is assumed to be your domicile until you set up a new one. This makes a certain amount of sense as a legal matter-if you could lose your domicile before you got a new one, it could be hard for people without a fixed residence to do essential government business. And it provides protection for students who want to keep their legal residence at their parents' house, where it's usually easy to maintain your residence under state law. But it also means that the place where you used to live -your parents' home, usually-is your domicile until you can prove that you changed it. Changing your domicile usually requires action-moving some place-and intent-intending for the new place to become your home.
Students are often warned that voter registration might affect their scholarships or financial aid. This is untrue for the vast majority of students.
Where you register to vote will not affect any of your federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, Perkins and Stafford Loans, Academic Competitive Grants, SMART Grants, and other federal loans. It will also not affect whether you are considered your parents' dependent for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) purposes.
A small handful of private scholarships and grants are designated for residents of a particular place. If you have one of these scholarships or grants, you should check with the administrator of the program to see how they determine residency-they may not consider voter registration, or they may not care if you switch your residency once enrolled at college.
For state government aid, only a very small number of students might be affected by registering to vote in a different state. There only ten states that let you use your state-based financial aid to pay for school in a different state; most states only give financial aid to students who stay in-state to attend school. In most of those states, whether your voter registration will have an effect on your financial aid depends on whether you are emancipated from or independent of your parents for FAFSA purposes. The question of your FAFSA dependency is separate from your dependency for tax purposes. You only lose your FAFSA dependency if you are over the age of 24, enrolled in a graduate program, you are married, you have children or other dependents, both of your parents are deceased, you were a ward or dependent of the court when you turned 18, you are currently serving in the Armed Forces (not ROTC), or you are a veteran. If none of these qualities apply to you, you are unemancipated or a dependent, and your parents' address determines your residency for the purpose of financial aid.
The table below describes the rules for determining residency for states that offer portable financial aid. As you'll see, voter registration is only one of many factors considered in determining residency, and in all but one state—Rhode Island—the student's registration is only considered if the student is independent of or emancipated from her parents.
Table 1. Portable State-Based Aid and Voter Registration
Where can you take your aid?
Whose residency is considered
How residency is determined
|Connecticut||Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington D.C.||Your parents if you are a dependent or unemancipated student as described above||Two of the following:
State Income Tax Return
Motor Vehicle Registration
|Delaware||Pennsylvania||Your parents if you are a dependent or unemancipated student as described above||Delaware Tax Return plus two of the following:
|Indiana||Students from Dearborn, Jefferson, Franklin, Ohio, Ripley, and Switzerland Counties may receive aid to attend the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Tech, or Northern Kentucky University||Your parents if you are a dependent or unemancipated student as described above||Indiana Tax Return or copy of Lease/Mortgage (Either Parents' or Student's)|
|Maine||Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, or Washington D.C.||You, but voter registration is not considered||Residency is determined through FAFSA filing address, tax returns|
|Massachusetts||New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.||You, but voter registration is not considered||Residency is determined through FAFSA filing address, tax returns|
|New Hampshire||Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania||Your parents if you are a dependent or unemancipated student as described above||Driver's License|
|Pennsylvania||Most schools not in the states of New York, New Jersey, or Maryland||Your parents if they have a home in Pennsylvania that you consider your permanent address||Permanent address in Pennsylvania|
|Rhode Island||Any accredited institution||You, but voter registration is only one of many factors considered||One of the following:
Property Tax Return (Parent or Student)
Other reasonable means to prove residency
|Vermont||Any accredited institution||Your parents if they have a home in Vermont that you consider your permanent address||Permanent address in Vermont|
|West Virginia||Pennsylvania||Your parents if you are a dependent or unemancipated student as described above||A sufficient number of the following: Ownership or lease of a home
Property Tax Return
Income Tax Return
Your residency status can also affect whether you will pay in-state versus out-of-state tuition. Because in-state tuition is less expensive than out-of-state tuition, registering to vote where you attend school usually won't hurt you financially. It is usually quite difficult to establish in-state residency for the purpose of tuition benefits; residency for voting is generally much easier to establish.
Some states have interstate reciprocity agreements that allow students from one state to pay in-state tuition or reduced tuition rates at certain institutions in certain other states, but voter registration should almost never create a problem for students in these programs. While eligibility for these programs is based on of your residency in your home state, eligibility is almost always determined by your residency at the time of application.
There several different reciprocity agreements throughout the country-some are agreements between just two states-but they usually work on similar principles. The two biggest reciprocity agreements are the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), covering Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming; and the Academic Common Market (ACM), covering Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Students who receive tuition benefits through WICHE programs have to sign agreements stating that they will not petition for in-state tuition in the state where they attend school. Schools that participate in WICHE may or may not require proof of residency, but they accept a variety of different documents and don't rely solely on voter registration. Unlike students participating in WICHE programs, students participating in ACM are free to try to establish in-state residency for tuition purposes. While students are required to prove residency in an eligible ACM state in order to receive benefits under the program, if you don't switch majors or schools after first enrolling, you won't have to prove your residency again after you start.
When your parents claim you as a dependent, they get to take a $3500 tax deduction, which reduces the amount of income they get taxed on. Students are sometimes told that registering to vote will make it impossible for their parents to claim them as a dependent. This is simply not true.
There are two ways that your parents can claim you as a dependent on their federal tax return: one way you can qualify as a dependent is as a "qualifying relative." If you make less than $3500 in a year and your parents provide more than half of your support (money spent on your food, housing, clothes, health care, tuition, books, laundry, car, etc.) for that year, you are a qualifying relative and are your parents' dependent no matter where you live. If you earn more than $3500, it's true that your residency could have some effect on your parents' ability to claim you as a dependent, but voter registration is only one of many factors that will be considered.
The other way you can qualify as a dependent is as a "qualifying child." You count as a qualifying child if you share the same principal place of abode with your parents for more than six months of the year, and you don't provide more than half of your own support. If you're temporarily absent from your principal place of abode for educational purposes, that absence isn't counted against the six months you need to live there.
Your tax liability
A state where you are a resident for tax purposes will likely tax you at a higher rate than a state where you're not a resident for tax purposes. You will usually have to file income taxes in any state where you earn money, if that state imposes an income tax. State income tax rates are usually much lower than the federal rate, and the amount of money involved for most students will be fairly small. Registering to vote is just one of many factors that will determine your legal residency for tax purposes.
If you have health insurance through your college or university, registering to vote should have absolutely zero affect on your coverage. If you have health insurance through your parents' insurance plan, you will almost certainly be able to continue that coverage as long as you are still claimed as a dependent on their tax return.
Car insurance should not be affected by your voter registration or your legal residency more generally. Your car insurance rate is determined by where your car is located and where you drive it. If you are a student who brings your car with you to school, your insurance company may change your rate because you are driving in a different environment, but voter registration is irrelevant to this determination.
If you drive on a state's roads and are a resident of the state, you are usually required to get a driver's license from that state. Many states exempt temporary residents or students from this requirement, but registering to vote, especially in a state where voter residency requires domicile or something close to it, can affect this exemption. If you drive in the state where you attend school, registering to vote may trigger an obligation to get a license in your new state. If you have a car with you in the state where you attend school, registering to vote may also obligate you to register your car in that state. This guide includes information on which states explicitly require voting residents to register their cars or use driver's licenses from that state.