Student Voting Guide | Pennsylvania

October 31, 2012

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Pennsylvania. 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, a report that we issued last year documents a number of these changes and 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 in October, 2012.

Registration

Registration forms are available online here.

Your application for registration must be received or postmarked by 30 days before Election Day.[1] The last day to register for the 2012 general election is October 9, 2012. You may register to vote if you will be 18 by the next election.

Residency

At School. Students can establish residency in Pennsylvania if they have a present intention to remain at their Pennsylvania school address for the time being, and they intend to make it their principal home.[2] Any other interpretation of the residency laws is unconstitutional. Students attending school in Pennsylvania may register and vote at their school address, and Pennsylvania law gives students the explicit right to register to vote in the district where they live while attending college.[3]

At Home. If you lived in Pennsylvania before moving elsewhere to attend school, and wish to cast a vote in Pennsylvania (i.e., at your parents’ Pennsylvania address), you should have no problem doing so unless you register to vote in another state. Like most states, Pennsylvania allows students to keep their voting residency even if they move out of the district to attend school, and the only way you will lose this residency is by establishing residency in a new state. Registering[4] or casting a ballot[5] in another state will be considered an abandonment of your Pennsylvania residency.  If you have established residency in another state and are moving back to Pennsylvania with the intent to reside here, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register in Pennsylvania.

Challenges to Residency. An election commissioner, registrar, clerk or any other qualified voter may challenge your registration by filing a sworn statement stating the reason for their challenge of your residency status.[6]  You would then have to complete a sworn response and provide any required evidence of your residency; the Election Commission will then make a decision.[7] If your registration is denied or cancelled, you have the right to appeal to a court.[8]

At the polls, your eligibility to vote can be challenged on the basis of residency by a poll worker, a partisan watcher, or any other voter who can prove to the satisfaction of the election officer that you are ineligible to vote. [9] If your eligibility is challenged, you will have to provide additional evidence, such as proof of identification and residency (see section on identification below) or get another registered voter to swear to your residency.[10]

Voting in Pennsylvania may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws governing residents.[11]

Identification

On October 2, 2012, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania granted a preliminary injunction blocking the full enforcement of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law for the November 2012 general election.[12] You will not be required to show ID before voting. Although poll workers will be allowed to ask for ID, voters without acceptable forms of ID (listed below) can still cast a regular ballot.

Under the new law, acceptable proof of identification must contain your name, a photograph,[13] and an expiration date;[14] and may be issued by the U.S. government, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a municipality of Pennsylvania, an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning, or a Pennsylvania care facility.[15] Acceptable IDs include a Pennsylvania driver’s license, a U.S. Passport, U.S. military ID, or an employee ID issued by federal, state, or local government.[16] University of Pennsylvania student IDs are acceptable ID because they include an expiration date. Drexel, Pennsylvania State, Park Point University, and LaSalle College ID’s are currently not valid proof of identification because at the time of this update, they do not include the required expiration date. If you do not have any acceptable ID, you may get free Voter ID at any PennDOT Driver License Center.[17] However, even if you do not have any acceptable forms of ID on election day in 2012, you will still be able to vote and cast a regular ballot.  

Absentee Voting

If you will be absent from the town where you are registered for the whole time polls are open because of your “duties, occupation or business” — which includes attending college — you should be able to vote by absentee ballot in Pennsylvania, although there is not a specific rule for students.[18] Your absentee application must be received by your county board of elections no later than 5:00 pm on the Tuesday before Election Day.[19] You will have to provide proof of identification with your application.[20] For absentee voting purposes, proof of identification includes: you driver’s license number, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or a copy of valid identification (see above section on Identification).[21]  If you did not include proof of identification with your application, or it could not be verified by the county board of elections, you will receive notice that you must provide proof of identification with your ballot.[22]  Your absentee ballot must be received by the county board of elections before 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.[23]

Pennsylvania also offers emergency absentee ballots for voters who did not know or have reason to apply for an absentee ballot before the regular deadline. Applications for emergency absentee ballots must be notarized and submitted to your county board of elections by 5:00 pm on the Friday before Election Day.[24]

Last updated in October 2012


[1] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1326(b).

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

[3] 4 Pa. Code § 183.3(4) (2011); Op. Atty. Gen., No. 64 (1971).  For additional information on registering as a student in Pennsylvania, see www.votespa.com and use the drop down menu to select “I am a college student.”  

[4] 4 Pa. Code § 183.3(4) (2011).

[5] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1302(b)(6).

[6] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1329(a).

[7] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1329(c).

[8] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1602.

[9] 25 Pa.. Stat. Ann. § 3051.

[10] 25 Pa.. Stat. Ann. § 3051.

[11] 75 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1501, 1502 (driver’s license); 75 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1301, 1303 (vehicle registration); 72 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3402-201 (income tax).

[12] Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Case No. 330 M.D.2012, Supplemental Determination on Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Oct. 2, 2012, available at http://www.pacourts.us/NR/rdonlyres/CFBF4323-B964-4846-8179-88D689375C10/0/CMWSuppDetAppPrelInjOrder_100212.pdf (last visited October 2, 2012).

[13] If you have a religious objection to being photographed, you may show a valid-without-photo driver’s license or identification card issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.   25 Pa. Stat. Ann. §2602(z.5)(1).

[14] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2602(z.5)(2)(2)(i-iii). With two exceptions, the expiration date must still be valid.  If the ID was issued by the Department of Transportation, the expiration date may be  no more than 12 months past the expiration date.  If the ID was issued by the Armed forces or reserves, it need not have a specific expiration date; but may state that the expiration date is indefinite.

[15] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2602(z.5)(2)(iv).

[16] New Voter ID Law, Pa. Dep’t of State, http://www.votespa.com/portal/server.pt/community/preparing_for_election_day/13517/voter_id_law/1115447 (last visited Mar. 27, 2012).

[17] In order to qualify for free ID, you will have to complete an application under oath that you do not have acceptable ID.  25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2626(b).  See also New Voter ID Law, Pa. Dep’t of Transportation, http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/voter/voteridlaw.shtml (last visited Mar. 27, 2012).

[18] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.1(j).

[19] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2a(a).

[20] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2(e).

[21] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2602(z.5)(3).

[22] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2b(d).

[23] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.6(a).

[24] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2a(a.1), (a.2) (West 2011).  You can find the application for an Emergency Absentee Ballot at http://www.dos.state.pa.us/imageserver/dos/Emergency%20Absentee%20Applic....