Student Voting Guide | Virginia

September 15, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Virginia. 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 September 15, 2014.

Registration

In Virginia, you may register to vote either in person, by mail, or online.[1] Voter registration applications are available here.

For regularly scheduled elections, the registration deadline is 22 days before the election.[2] Your mail-in application must be postmarked at least 22 days before the election in which you wish to vote.[3] Registration deadlines are later for special elections: you may register seven days before a special election called by the governor or the legislature and 13 days before any other special election.[4]

Each county and city has its own local voter registration office, where registration applications can be picked up and dropped off.[5] You can find yours here. You may also register at DMV offices, public libraries, military recruitment offices, the State Board of Elections office, and any government agency that has the primary purpose of providing public assistance or services to the disabled.[6]

Virginia provides a useful online resource that allows you to look up voting and election information specific to you, including the status of your registration and ballot, your polling place, and contact information for your local registrar.

Even if you are still 17, you may register and vote in primary elections if you will be 18 by the next general election.[7]

If you have established residency in another state and are moving back to Virginia with the intent to reside here, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register in Virginia.

Residency

At School. Students can establish residency in Virginia if they have a present intent to remain at their Virginia school address for the time being, and they intend to make it their principal home.[8] Any other interpretation of the residency laws is unconstitutional.

To establish voting residency in Virginia, you must have a “place of abode”—a physical dwelling like a house or apartment—and “domicile” in Virginia.[9] To be domiciled in Virginia, your in-state physical dwelling must be your primary home and what you consider “the center of [your] domestic, social and civil life.”[10] College students do not need specific intent to stay in their college jurisdiction beyond graduation in order to establish voting residency.[11] In addition, residency in Virginia must be broadly construed to provide the greatest opportunity to register and to vote.[12]

At Home. Students who lived in Virginia before moving elsewhere to attend school, and who wish to establish or keep their Virginia voting residency (i.e., at their parents’ Virginia address), should have no problem doing so unless they have already registered to vote in another state. Like all states, Virginia 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 to vote in another state may automatically be considered an abandonment of your Virginia residency.[13]

If you have established residence in another state and are moving back to Virginia with the intent to reside there, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register at home.

Voting in Virginia may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents.

Challenges to Residency. There are number of ways your residency can be challenged under Virginia law. First, local elections officials may refuse to accept your application. If your registration is denied, you are entitled to written notice of the grounds of denial and can appeal the decision to the circuit court in your city or county within 10 days of the denial.[14] The court must hear your case as soon as possible.[15] If the court finds against you, you may appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.[16]

After your registration is processed, your eligibility can be challenged by local elections officials or by three qualified voters; if that happens, an elections official must notify you and hold a hearing within ten days to determine whether to cancel your registration.[17] If you fail to appear at the hearing, your registration will be cancelled. You may appeal this decision to the circuit court, and from there to the Virginia Supreme Court.[18]

Finally, your eligibility to vote can be challenged at the polls. Any qualified voter may, and election officers must, challenge voters if they believe the voter is not a resident of Virginia or of the precinct.[19] Partisan poll watchers are entitled to be in the polling place, and although there is no specific rule, it appears they are entitled to make challenges as well.[20] The person making the challenge must sign a statement, subject to penalties for hindering, intimidating, or interfering with a qualified voter, at which point the election officer will explain to you the voter qualification requirements and may ask you about your qualifications.[21] If you believe you are qualified and the challenge is not withdrawn, the officer will give you a statement to sign—if you sign it, you will be allowed to vote.[22]

Any challenge made solely on the basis of your student or tuition status is invalid.

Identification

Effective July 1, 2014, Virginia voters must present photo ID at the polls.[23]Acceptable forms of ID include any valid student ID containing a photograph of the voter and issued by any higher education institution in Virginia.[24] Other acceptable forms of ID include a valid Virginia driver’s license, a U.S. passport, a concealed handgun permit, any ID card issued by a Virginia or federal government agency, and any valid employee ID card.[25] Acceptable ID must include a photograph of the voter.[26].

If you do not have one of these forms of ID with you, you will be able to cast a provisional ballot, but in order for it to count, you will need to submit photo ID in person, or by fax, email, or mail to the electoral board by noon on the third day after the election.[27]

Absentee Voting

Virginia law explicitly allows students who are away from home because of their studies to vote absentee,[28] and full-time students are an exception to the general law that all first-time voters must vote in person.[29]

You may request an absentee ballot as long as a year before the election in which you wish to vote, although ballots may not be available until 45 days before the election.[30] You can complete an application, in person, at the office of the general registrar, up until three days before Election Day.[31] Please note that the in-person applications for an absentee ballot are subject to the photo ID requirements explained above.

You can also submit your application for an absentee ballot by mailing the application to your local elections office. The application can be downloaded here.[32] Your mailed application for an absentee ballot must be received by your local voter registration office by 5 p.m. seven days before the election.[33] You must have a witness when you open, mark, and close your absentee ballot; your witness must sign your ballot envelope.[34] Anyone can be a witness.[35] Your ballot must be received by the county before the close of polls on Election Day.[36]

Last Updated September 15, 2014.


[1] Va. Code Ann. §§ 24.2-411, 24.2-411.1, 24.2-411.2, 24.2-412, 24.2-416.1(A).

[2] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-416.

[3] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-416.4(A); see also Va. State  Bd. of Elections, Va. Voter Registration Application Form, available at https://www.sbe.virginia.gov/Files/Forms/VoterForms/VoterRegistrationApplication.pdf.

[4] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-416.

[5] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-411.

[6] Va. Code Ann. §§ 24.2-411.1(A), 24.2-411.2(A); see also

How to Register, Va. State Bd. of Elections, http://sbe.virginia.gov/index.php/registration/how-to-register/.

[7] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-403.

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

[9] Va. Const. Art. II, § 1; Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-101.

[10] 1 Va. Admin. Code § 20-40-10.

[11] 1 Va. Admin. Code § 20-40-20(B)(2).

[12] 1 Va. Admin. Code § 20-40-30(A).

[13] 1 Va. Admin. Code 20-40-30(G).

[14] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-422(A).

[15] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-422(A).

[16] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-422(A).

[17] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-429.

[18] Va. Code Ann. §§ 24.2-430, 24.2-422(A).

[19] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-651.

[20] Va. Code Ann. §§ 24.2-604, 24.2-651.

[21] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-651.

[22] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-651.

[23] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-643(B).

[24] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-643(B).

[25] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-643(B).

[26] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-643(B).

[27] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-653(A).

[28] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-700(3).

[29] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-416.1(B)(iv).

[30] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-701(A), (B)(2); Va. Absentee Ballot Application Form, Commonwealth of Va., available at http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/Files/Forms/VoterForms/ABApplication.pdf.

[31] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-701B(1).

[32] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-701B(2).

[33] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-701B(2).

[34] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-707.

[35] See Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-707.

[36] Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-709.