Student Voting Guide | Iowa

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Iowa.

August 15, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Iowa.  If you wish to vote from your school address, check the student voting guide for the state where you attend school. If you want to cast an absentee ballot in your home state, check the student voting guide for that state.

The Brennan Center is committed to giving students as much information as possible to help you exercise your constitutional right to vote. More than ever in recent history, changes to voting laws are being implemented in ways that can affect your ability to make your vote count. In addition to the content you will find in this Student Voting Guide, we continue to track passed and pending voting law changes here.

While we are working to give you up-to-date information, we urge you to be proactive! In order to ensure you have all the information you need before casting your vote, you should also check with your state and local election officials for information about additional requirements or regulations.

This voting guide was last updated August 15, 2014.


In Iowa, you can either register at the polling place on Election Day or you can register in advance of the election up to ten days before Election Day (or eleven days before a primary).[1] You can check your voter registration online.

Pre-registration is available by mail. Registration forms are available to download here. Mail-in registration forms must be received by the relevant deadline or be postmarked at least 15 days before Election Day.[2] All Iowa colleges and universities that receive state funding must offer the opportunity to register to vote on campus at least once a year.[3]

If you’re registering by mail for the first time and you do not have an Iowa drivers’ license or state ID, you should provide a photocopy of a current and valid photo ID with your application, or, if you do not have an ID, a photocopy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or other government document that has your name and address on it.[4]

Iowa has Election Day registration. To register on Election Day, you have to go the designated polling place for your address, complete a voter registration application, and show proof of your identity and residence.[5] The following forms of photo ID are accepted for Election Day registration:

  • any driver’s license (Iowa or out-of-state);
  • a U.S. passport;
  • a U.S. military ID card;
  • an employee ID card; or
  • a student ID card from an Iowa high school, college or university.[6]

The photo ID must be current and valid which means it must contain an expiration date that has not passed.[7] If your ID does not show your current address, you must also show one of the following documents with your current address: residential lease, property tax statement, utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or any other government document.[8] Alternatively, you can have another registered voter in the precinct swear to your identity and residency. They must do this in person at the polling place.[9]

You may register to vote in Iowa beginning six months before your 18th birthday.[10] If you have been convicted of a felony, it may impact your ability to vote. If you think you might be affected, you should contact your local election officials.


Under Iowa law, your voting residence is the place you declare to be your home with the intent to remain there for any amount of time.[11]

At School. Iowa law expressly allows students who consider themselves residents of Iowa as well as another place (such as their parent’s home) to choose either their home or school address for voter registration and voting purposes.[12] Students have the right to cast a ballot as a resident of Iowa regardless of whether they pay in-state or out-of-state tuition.

At Home. Students who lived in Iowa but moved to another state for school, and who wish to establish or keep their Iowa voting residency (i.e., at their parents’ address), should have no problem doing so unless they have already registered to vote in another state.

Like all states, Iowa allows students to keep their voting residency even if they temporarily move out of the county or state to attend school. The only way you will lose this residency is if you “abandon” it by claiming the right to vote in a new state through registering to vote or voting in another state.[13] If you have claimed the right to vote elsewhere and are moving back to Iowa with the intent to reside here, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register at home.

Registering to vote in Iowa is a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents.[14]

Challenges to Residency.

Your registration can be challenged by another registered voter through a written statement.[15] If this happens, you will notified and given the opportunity to contest the challenge at a hearing, either by submitting proof of your residence or by appearing at the hearing.[16] If the challenge is upheld, you will be able to appeal the decision to court.[17]

On Election Day, your eligibility to vote can be challenged at the polls by a poll worker or another registered voter.[18] A precinct official will then question you about your qualifications to vote and you will be able to, but not required to, present evidence (such as ID) that you are qualified to vote.[19] If the challenge is withdrawn by the challenger you will be able to vote a regular ballot.[20] If the challenge is not withdrawn, you will still be able to vote via provisional ballot.[21] After you’ve voted with a provisional ballot, you can present additional evidence about your qualifications to county officials until the close of polls.[22] Your declaration of residence is presumed to be valid; you will only be found not to be a resident if a preponderance of evidence contradicts your declaration.[23] Remember, any challenge made solely on the basis of your student or tuition status is improper.[24]


Most Iowa voters do not need to show ID when voting. However, if you are a first-time Iowa voter who registered by mail, and election officials could not verify your identifying numbers (your Iowa driver’s license or ID number or the last four digits of your Social Security number), you will have to provide proof of identification, either at the polls or anytime before Election Day.

Sufficient proof of identity includes any current and valid photo ID, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.[25]

You will also have to show ID if you register to vote on Election Day (see the registration section above).[26] The state also offers an online guide describing who needs to bring ID to the polling place.

If you are asked to show identification and are unable to do so, you will still be able to vote by provisional ballot.[27] This ballot will not be counted unless you provide acceptable identification to the county after the election.[28]

Absentee Voting

Any registered voter who expects to be absent from their precinct or unable to go to the polls during the hours the polls are open on Election Day can vote absentee.[29] Applications for absentee ballots sent by mail must be received by county officials by 5:00 p.m. the Friday before the election.[30] Applications are available on the web site of the Iowa Secretary of State.  Your absentee ballot must either be received by the election officials before the polls close on Election Day or be postmarked no later than the day before Election Day and received no later than the Monday morning following the election.[31] If you vote an absentee ballot in person, you must vote the ballot at that location.[32] Check the State’s Absentee Ballot guide for more details.

Early Voting

As a convenience to voters, Iowa has early voting which begins no more than 40 days before an election and ending the day before Election Day.[33] At the commissioner’s office, you can vote any precinct’s ballot for that county.  You should check with your county elections office for the exact dates, times, and locations for early voting. 

Last Updated August 15, 2014

[1] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.9(1)

[2] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.9(3)

[3] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.23(2).

[4] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.8

[5] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.7A(a)..

[6] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.7A(b).

[7] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.7A(b).

[8] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.7A(b).

[9] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.7A(c).

[10] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.5(c).

[11] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.5(2)(b).

[12] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.5A(5); see also Paulson v. Forest City Comm. Schl. Dist., 238 N.W.2d 344, 346–51 (Iowa 1976) (students who made voter's declaration of eligibility at polls and who declared college town to be their home were qualified voting residents as defined by statute, even though hometowns of students were outside school district).

[13] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.5(2)(d)..

[14] Iowa Code Ann. § 321.1A(1)(c).

[15] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.14.

[16] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.15.

[17] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.16.

[18] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.79.

[19] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.80.

[20] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.80(2).

[21] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.80(2).

[22] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.81.

[23] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.5A(8).

[24] See Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 330 (1972); Williams v. Salerno, 792 F.2d 323, 328 (2d Cir. 1986).

[25] See Iowa Admin. Code r. 721-21.3(49,48A) (implementing Iowa Code Ann. § 49.77(3)) (citing to Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.8 (listing IDs))

[26] Iowa Code Ann. § 48A.7A(a).

[27] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.81.

[28] Iowa Code Ann. § 49.81(2)(b). You will get instructions with your provisional ballot on how to present this ID to the local elections commissioner.

[29] Iowa Code Ann. § 53.1.

[30] Iowa Code Ann. § 53.2(1)(b).

[31] Iowa Code Ann. § 53.17(1-2).

[32] Absentee Voting In Person, Iowa Secretary of State,

[33] Iowa Code Ann. § 53.10.