Student Voting Guide | Pennsylvania

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

August 15, 2014

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, 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 (be it a primary or general election) and are a U.S. Citizen and resident of Pennsylvania.[1] Registration forms are available online but must be delivered in person at various state agencies or by mail (check the mail form for the correct postal address). Note Pennsylvania is a “closed primary” state; you will not be able to vote in a party’s primary unless you register with a party.[2]

Your application for registration must be received or postmarked at least 30 days before Election Day.[3]


At School. Students can establish residency at your Pennsylvania school address if that is the place where your “habitation is fixed” (if only for the moment) and to which you intend to return. Constitutionally, you need only have the intention to remain at your school address and make it your primary home.[4] Pennsylvania law gives students the explicit right to register to vote in the district where they live while attending college.[5]

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 to vote[6] or casting a ballot[7] 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.[8]  If challenged in this manner, you will have to complete a sworn response and provide any required evidence of your residency; the Election Commission will then make a decision.[9] If your registration is denied or cancelled, you have the right to appeal to a court.[10] Any qualified voter may also challenge a voter’s eligibility by petition. If your eligibility is challenged in this way, you must appear in person to dispute the petition.[11]

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.[12] If your eligibility is challenged, you must produce a witness or otherwise prove your eligibility to the satisfaction of poll officials.[13] Local elections officials will decide the challenge, but they can be appealed to the local court of common pleas (which is open for the whole day to decide elections challenges).[14]

Voting in Pennsylvania may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws governing residents.[15]


Most Pennsylvania voters do not need to show ID when voting. However, if you are a first-time Pennsylvania voter who registered by mail, and election officials could not verify your identifying numbers (your driver’s license or ID number or the last four digits of your Social Security number), you will have to provide proof of identification, either at the polls or anytime before Election Day.[16]

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 can vote by absentee ballot in Pennsylvania, although there is not a specific rule for students.[17]

If you wish to vote absentee, you must apply for an absentee ballot by mail. Your application must be received by your county board of elections no later than 5:00 pm on the Tuesday before Election Day.[18] You must provide proof of identification with your application.[19] For absentee voting purposes, proof of identification includes: your driver’s license number, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or a copy of acceptable photo ID.[20] 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.[21]

After you apply for an absentee ballot, you will receive your ballot in the mail. Your completed ballot must be received by the county board of elections before 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day.[22]

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 submitted to your county board of elections by 5:00 pm on the Friday before Election Day.[23]

Last Updated August 15, 2014

[1] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1301(a).

[2] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2812.

[3] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1326(b).

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

[5] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2813; 1971 Op. Atty. Ga. Pa. 111, 1971 Pa. AG LEXIS 62 (1971). For additional information on registering as a student in Pennsylvania, see and use the drop down menu to select “I am a college student.”  

[6] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1302(b)(4).

[7] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1302(b)(6).

[8] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1329(a).

[9] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1329(c).

[10] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1602(a)(1).

[11] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1509

[12] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 3050, 3053.

[13] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 2685 (describing ability of election overseers to challenge voters, interrogate such voters, and “examine... papers produced”), 3050(a.4)(12)(d) (“if challenged as to identity or residence, [a voter] shall produce at least one qualified elector of the election district as a witness, who shall make affidavit of his identity or continued residence in the election district”).

[14] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3046.

[15] 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1501, 1502 (driver’s license); 75 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1301, 1303 (vehicle registration); 72 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3402-201 (income tax).

[16] 42 U.S.C. § 15483(b)

[17] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.1(j).

[18] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2a(a).

[19] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2(e)(1).

[20] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2602(z.5)(3)(iii). Note that the voter ID decision, Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330 M.D. 2012, 2014 WL 184988 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 17, 2014), did not invalidate ID requirements for absentee ballot applications.  Consult your county election official for further information.

[21] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2b(d).

[22] 25 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 3146.6(a).

[23] 25 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3146.2a.