Student Voting Guide | Washington

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

August 15, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Washington. 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, a report we issued this 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 August 15, 2014.


To register to vote in Washington you must be 18 or over by the next election and a citizen of the United States.[1]

You may register to vote online if you have a Washington driver’s license or state identification card. Whether registering online or by mail (you can download and print the mail-in form), your registration application must be postmarked 29 days before Election Day.[2] For the 2014 General Election the online/mail registration deadline is October 6.[3]    

You can also register in person at your county elections office up to eight days before Election Day (i.e., October 27 for the 2014 election).[4] If you are already registered in Washington and are moving within the state, you must update your registration by the 29th day before the election, otherwise your ballot will be sent to your previous registration address.[5]

If you have been convicted of a felony, it may impact your ability to vote. If you have questions about whether you may be affected, you can contact your local election officials for more details.


Under Washington law, voting residency is determined by your permanent address—the place where you physically live and where you maintain your home.[6] You must have lived at this address for the 30 days immediately preceding an election in order to vote in that election.[7]

At School. Students can establish residency in Washington if they have a present intention to remain at their Washington school address for the time being, and they intend to make it their principal home.[8] Any other interpretation of the residency law is unconstitutional.[9]

If you live on campus and provide a campus address as your residential address, be sure to list your dormitory and room number; a PO Box is not a residential address.[10] However, a P.O. Box can be used as a mailing address—for example, the address to which a mail-in-ballot will be delivered. For more information, refer to the Secretary of State’s College Student Voting guide.

Voting in Washington is a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents.[11] However, residency requirements for voting purposes are not the same as those for in-state tuition purposes.[12]

At Home. Voting residency is not gained or lost in Washington solely as a result of attendance at school.[13] Students who lived in Washington before moving elsewhere to attend school, and who wish to establish or keep their Washington voting residency (i.e., their parents’ Washington address), should therefore have no problem doing so unless they establish residency in another state. Note that registering to vote in another state is considered an abandonment of residency in Washington.[14] If you have established residency in another state and are moving back to Washington with the intent to reside here, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register in Washington.

Challenges to Residency. Washington presumes that you are qualified to vote if you are registered to vote.[15] Your eligibility can only be challenged by a signed affidavit filed by another registered voter or by the county prosecuting attorney.[16] The standard for successfully challenge a voter on the basis of residency is high: the challenger must have “personal knowledge” of your non-residency, engage in “due diligence” including searching several different kinds of public records to determine that you do not live at your registered address, and prove your non-residency with “clear and convincing” evidence.[17] Your status as a student cannot be used as the basis of a challenge.[18]

If your eligibility to vote is challenged, you are entitled to notice and a hearing to determine your eligibility.[19] The hearing will be before the county auditor, unless it is filed within 45 days of an election, in which case it will be before the county canvassing board.[20] You may seek judicial review, of the county auditor or canvassing board’s decision, by the superior court.[21]


For your voter registration to be accepted you must give proof of your identity. You can prove your identity by providing your driver’s license number, state identification card number, or the last four digits of your social security number on your registration form.[22]  If you did not provide any of these numbers on your registration form, you will be provisionally registered to vote and must provide ID in order for your vote to be counted, but you have until after the election to provide this information.[23]

If you do not have a driver’s license number, state identification card number, or social security number, you may provide your county elections office with:

  1. A valid photo ID;
  2. A valid enrollment card of an Indian tribe in Washington state;
  3. A copy of a current utility bill;
  4. A current bank statement;
  5. A copy of a current government check;
  6. A copy of a current paycheck; or
  7. A government document, other than a voter registration card, that shows both your name and address.[24]

For your ballot to be counted you must provide your county elections office with one of these types of identification no later than the day before the certification of the election.[25] Certification occurs fourteen days after a primary or special election and twenty-one days after a general election.[26]

Note that if you choose to submit your ballot in person at a voting center, you must provide specified photo identification (see next section).

Vote by Mail

All Washington voters vote by mail.[27] Your ballot will be mailed to the address listed on your registration form no later than 18 days before Election Day.[28] If your ballot has been destroyed, spoiled, lost, or not received you may obtain a replacement ballot.[29]  Requests for a replacement ballot can be made by phone, fax, or email, or in person with your county election official. If you return your completed ballot in person, your completed ballot must be returned to your county election office or voting center no later than 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.[30] If you mail in your ballot, it must be postmarked by Election Day.[31]

You may also vote at a voting center, a special location set up by your county elections office, providing handicap accessible in-person voting, ballots, ballot drop-boxes, and information on how to vote.[32] Voting centers will be open starting 18 days before Election Day and will close at 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.[33] If you vote in person you must sign a ballot declaration or provide valid photo identification.[34] Valid photo identification includes a driver's license, state ID, student ID, tribal ID, or employer ID.[35] If you vote in person at your county’s voting center your ballot will only be counted if you have not also voted by a regular mail-in ballot for the same election.[36] Contact your county auditor for voting center locations.

Last Updated August 15, 2014

[1] Wash. Const. art. VI, §1; Wash. Rev. Code. Ann. §29A.08.210(9).

[2] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §29A.08.140(1)(a); Washington State Voter Registration Form, available at

[3] Elections Calendar, Wash. Sec’y of State,

[4] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §29A.08.140(1)(b).

[5] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §29A.08.140(2).

[6] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.04.151.

[7] Wash. Const. art. VI, §1.

[8] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.04.151. See Fiske v. Fiske, 48 Wash. 2d 69, 73 (“the intention to establish a residence must relate to a present residence”).

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

[10] College Voters, Wa. Sec’y of State, (last visited Aug. 9, 2014).

[11] See, e.g. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 46.20.021 (registering to vote declares residency for the purpose of drivers’ license and motor vehicle registration statutes, meaning you must get a Washington drivers’ license within 30 days of registering to vote).

[12] College Voters, Wa. Sec’y of State, (last visited Aug. 9, 2014).

[13] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.04.151(3).

[14] See Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.04.151 (“Absence from the state on business shall not affect the question of residence of any person unless the right to vote has been claimed or exercised elsewhere.”); Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.135(2) (“A county auditor receiving official information that a voter has registered to vote in another state shall immediately cancel that voter's registration on the official state voter registration list.”).

[15] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.810(1).

[16] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.810(2).

[17] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.810(2).

[18] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.04.151(3); see also Challenge to Voter Registration, Wa. Sec’y of State, (last visited Aug. 9, 2014).

[19] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.820.

[20] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.820(2).

[21] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.840(6). 

[22] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.107(1).

[23] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.107(3)

[24] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.107(2).

[25] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.08.107(3).

[26] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.60.190.

[27] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.010.

[28] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.070(1).

[29] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.070(2).

[30] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.070(2).

[31] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.091.

[32] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.160(1)-(2).

[33] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.160(1).

[34] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.160(7).

[35] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.160(7)(b).

[36] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 29A.40.160(12).