Student Voting Guide | Tennessee

August 15, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Tennessee.  If you wish to vote from your school address, check the student voting guide for the state in which you attend school.  If you are interested in casting 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 election.[1] Download and print your registration form.

The voter registration deadline is 30 days before the election.[2]  If you plan to vote absentee, you need to register in person at your county election commission; if you register by mail (including through a voter registration drive), you will not be able to vote absentee.[3]  If you want to vote absentee the first time you vote, consider registering in person in the summer before you begin school and then updating your address once you get to school in the fall.[4]


You must establish residency in Tennessee to register to vote in the state.[5]   

At School.  If you attend school in Tennessee, you can establish residency in Tennessee if you have a present intention to remain at your Tennessee school address for the time being and intend to make it your principal home.[6] Any other interpretation of the residency law is unconstitutional.  Your county election commission may not reject your registration based on your living in a rental unit or dormitory.[7]

Voting in Tennessee may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents. For example, qualifying as a registered voter in the state makes you a Tennessee resident for the purposes of the driver’s license law;[8] if you drive, you will be required to get a Tennessee driver’s license within 30 days of establishing residency.[9]

At Home.  If you lived in Tennessee before moving elsewhere to attend school, you may keep your Tennessee residency (i.e., at your parents’ Tennessee address) as long as you do not establish residency in another state. [10] If you have established residency in another state and are moving back to Tennessee with the intent to reside there, you will have to follow the normal registration procedure to re-register in Tennessee (see Registration section above).

Challenges to Residency. If the county official in charge of voter registration rejects your registration application on the basis of residency, you have a right to appeal the decision to your county election commission within ten days.[11] You also have a right to have a court review your case.[12] Students have the right to cast a ballot as a resident of Tennessee regardless of whether you pay in-state or out-of-state tuition. 

At the polls, poll watchers appointed by political parties, organizations, and independent candidates may also challenge your eligibility to vote on the basis of residency.[13] Any challenge made solely on the basis of your student or tuition status is invalid.  If your eligibility is challenged, you will have to swear an oath and answer the election judges’ questions.[14] Unless the election judges unanimously agree that you are not eligible, you will be allowed to vote normally.[15]


If the state coordinator of elections discovers evidence that you are not a U.S. citizen after you register to vote, your county election commission will request that you provide proof of citizenship within 30 days in order to retain your voter registration.[16] Proof of citizenship includes an original or photocopy of your birth certificate, U.S. passport, or naturalization documents.[17]

If you vote in person at the polls, you will have to fill out and sign an application for a ballot (including your current Tennessee address), show a photo ID issued by Tennessee or the United States (student IDs do not qualify),[18] and sign a voter signature list.[19]  If you do not have an acceptable photo ID, you can get a free photo ID at most Tennessee DMV Driver Service Centers.[20]

If you do not have a qualifying photo ID, you will have to sign an affidavit of identity;[21] but you will only be able to cast a regular ballot if you are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.[22]  Otherwise, you will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot but you will then have to provide a qualifying photo ID to election officials within two days in order for your vote to be counted.[23]

If your eligibility to vote cannot be determined from registration records, you will have to complete an original application for voter registration, requiring some proof of residency,[24] such as a driver’s license, residential lease agreement, utility bill, or other document stating your Tennessee address.[25]  You will then be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, to be examined alongside absentee ballots.[26]

Absentee Voting

To vote absentee, you must be attending school outside of your county of registration or have another reason for being outside of your county of registration during both Election Day and the early voting period (see Early Voting section below).[27] You can only vote by absentee ballot if you registered to vote in person or if you have voted before in Tennessee.[28] If you are a first-time voter who registered by mail, however, you are not allowed to vote absentee and must go to your county of registration to vote in person.[29]

To apply to vote absentee, visit or send a request to your county election commission.[30]  Your request will be considered a complete absentee ballot application if you include your signature and state your name, your permanent address in the county, your social security number, your date of birth, your temporary mailing address outside the county, the election you want to vote in, and your reason for voting absentee.[31]

Your absentee ballot application, which can be mailed or faxed, must be received by your county election commission between 90 and 7 days before Election Day.[32] You must mail in your absentee ballot, and it has to be received by your county election commission by the close of polls on Election Day.[33]

Early Voting

Tennessee has early voting which begins 20 days before Election Day and ends five days before Election Day[34] (or seven days for presidential primary elections[35]). During that time, your county election commission should be open for early voting at least three hours each day, Monday through Saturday.[36] You should check with your county election commission for the exact dates, times and locations for early voting.

Last Updated August 15, 2014

[1]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-104(3).

[2]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-109.

[3]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-115(b)(7).

[4]  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-115(b)(7).

[5]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-102.

[6]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-122(a)(1);  Brown v. Hows, 42 S.W.2d 210, 211 (1931).

[7]  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-122(a)(6) “A person may be a resident of a place regardless of the nature of the person’s habitation…”.

[8]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-102(47).

[9]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-304(5).

[10]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-122(a)(7).

[11]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-125(b).

[12]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-9-101 et seq.

[13]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-104(a). 

[14]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-123.

[15]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-125(b).

[16]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-141(a), (b).

[17]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-141(b).

[18]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c).

[19]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(a)(1).

[20]  In order to qualify for a free photo ID, you will have to sign an affidavit stating that you do not have a valid government-issued photo ID, are a registered voter in Tennessee, and need the photo ID for voting purposes. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-50-336(g)(1).

[21]  Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 2-7-112(a)(3)(A), 2-7-112(e).

[22]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(f).

[23]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(e).

[24]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(a)(3).

[25]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(d).

[26]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(a)(3)(v)-(vi).

[27]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-201(1), (2). 

[28]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-115(b)(7).

[29]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-115(b)(7).

[30]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-202(a)(2), (3). 

[31]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-202(a)(3).

[32]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-202(a)(1).

[33]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-303(b).

[34]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-102. 

[35]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-102(c). 

[36]  Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-103.