Student Voting Guide | Massachusetts

August 15, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Massachusetts. If you wish to vote from your school address, check the student voter 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.


You may register to vote if you will be 18 by the next preliminary, primary, special or general election.[1] Your registration form is due by 8 p.m. on the 20th day before the election—it can either be received at the registrar’s office or postmarked by that day.[2] You can download a registration form online at the Elections Division website. You can also check your voter registration status online.

If you have been convicted of a felony, your right to vote may be affected. [3] You should check with your local elections officials for further information..


At School. Students can establish residency in Massachusetts if they have a present intention to remain at their Massachusetts school address for the time being, and they intend to make it their principal home. Any other interpretation of the residency laws is unconstitutional.[4]  Massachusetts courts have long interpreted the law to allow students to establish residence in their college towns.[5]

At Home. Students who lived in Massachusetts prior to attending school and who wish to establish or keep their Massachusetts voting residency (i.e., at their parents’ address), should have no problem doing so unless they have already registered to vote in another state.[6] Like most states, Massachusetts allows students to keep their voting residency even if they move out of the county or state to attend school. The only way you may lose this residency is if you “abandon” it by asserting residency in a new state. While registering to vote in another state is not automatically considered an abandonment of residency in Massachusetts, some judges or officials might view it as such. If you have established residency in another state and are moving back to Massachusetts with the intent to reside here, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register in Massachusetts.

Challenges to Residency. Election officials can deny your registration if they determine that you are not a resident. They must give you notice and an opportunity to respond.[7]

Your qualifications can also be challenged by another registered voter who submits a sworn, written complaint stating that you are not eligible to be registered.[8] If your eligibility to vote is challenged by a registered voter before the election, the registrars must first check to see whether the challenge is legitimate.[9] If they think there are grounds for the challenge, the registrars must give you notice of at least two days[10] and hold a hearing, where you can testify under oath, present evidence, and (if you wish) be represented by a lawyer to prove your residency.[11] If the registrars reject your registration, you can appeal to a court.[12]

Your eligibility to vote can also be challenged at the polls, either by a partisan challenger[13] or by a poll worker.[14] If your right to vote is challenged, you will be asked to take an oath affirming your eligibility, but you will be allowed to cast a challenged ballot that will be counted.[15]

Voting in Massachusetts may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents.  For example, registering to vote in Massachusetts makes you a resident for the purposes of the driver’s license and registration.[16] If you drive a car in the state, you have 30 days from when you register to vote to get a Massachusetts driver’s license.[17]


You will only have to show ID at the polls if you are a first-time voter who registered by mail and your identifying numbers (Massachusetts driver’s license number or non-driver ID number, or the last four digits of a Social Security number) could not be verified by the state (to avoid any verification problems, you can send a copy of your ID when you register, too, in order to avoid having to show it at the polls).[18]

If you have to show ID at the polls, you can show a current and valid photo ID, or a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows your name and address as they appear on the voter rolls.[19] If you cannot show ID, you’ll have to vote by provisional ballot,[20] which will be counted if you are an eligible voter.[21]

Absentee Voting

If you are a registered voter in Massachusetts but will be away from your residence because you are attending an institution of higher education, you can vote using an absentee ballot from the city or town in which you are registered in Massachusetts.[22] Absentee ballot applications are available online on the web site of the Secretary of State.

Your application for an absentee ballot must be received by the town clerk before noon on the day before Election Day.[23] Your actual ballot must be received by the clerk’s office by the close of the polls on Election Day.[24]

Last Updated August 15, 2014.

[1] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 51, § 1 (18-year-old requirement); Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 51, § 47A (may register if voter will be 18 by the next election).

[2] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 51, § 26.

[3] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 51, § 1.

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

[5] See, e.g., Hershkoff v. Bd. of Registrars of Voters, 321 N.E.2d 656, 663-64 (Mass. 1974) (students are “free to establish” residency for voting purposes at school).

[6] See, e.g., Hershkoff v. Board of Registrars of Voters, 321 N.E.2d 656, 664 (Mass. 1974) (“even in the absence of parental support and dormitory residence, we do not think that young people who leave home to go to college are automatically barred from voting in their home cities and towns; nor can they be automatically removed from voting lists there.”).

[7] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 51, § 47.

[8] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 51, § 48.

[9] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 51, § 48.

[10] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 51, § 48.

[11] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 51, § 49.

[12] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 103.

[13] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 85A.

[14] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 23.

[15] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 85.

[16] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 90, § 3½(11).

[17] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 90, § 3.

[18] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 76B.

[19] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 54, § 76B(b)(2).

[20] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 76B(b)(2)(B)(i).

[21] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 76C.

[22] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 86. See

[23] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 89.

[24] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 54, § 93.