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New Voter Guide Explains Rights of Student Voters

With thousands of young and new voters expected to participate in the 2008 election, the Center launches an online legal guide to student voting to arm student with the information they need to navigate voting and registration.

September 10, 2008
logoFor Immediate Release:

Contact: Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (646) 452–5637


Brennan Center Web Tool Dispels Common Myths About Student Voting Regulations, State-by-State

New York – With thousands of young and new voters expected to participate in the 2008 election, today the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law launched an online legal guide to student voting. Students across the country will face unique challenges when they register to vote and cast ballots this November, and the interactive Legal Guide to Student Voting provides an easy-to-use state-by-state analysis of voting laws tailored specifically to college students.

The Brennan Center Guide also dispels common myths about the registration process that can impede student voters—particularly students attending college away from home—as recently described in the New York Times.

With a thorough synthesis of the voting regulations in 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Guide features a clickable map of the United States with concise guidelines about the often complicated registration, residency, voter ID, and absentee laws that vary in each state. By scrolling over a given state, the Guide allows students to quickly determine how to cast a ballot whether they are voting in their home state or out of state.

“This Guide provides accurate, succinct information so students can effectively exercise their right to vote,” says Mimi Franke who co-authored the Guide while a student at the NYU School of Law.

“Sometimes students are discouraged from voting in their school communities because they believe the law sees them as temporary residents. But students often live at college for four years and usually can vote where they go to college or where they lived beforehand. The majority of the nation’s students should have no trouble registering and voting this November if they know their rights,” said Sara Conrath, another co-author and NYU Law student.

The Legal Guide to Student Voting sets the record straight on several key registration issues:

  • In virtually all states, students have the choice of registering either where they attend school or where they are originally from, depending on which address they consider their current residence. (Students’ post-graduation plans are largely irrelevant to voting residency.)
  • Students’ decisions to register at school, rather than where they are originally from, will not have any federal tax or financial aid consequences. It will not, for example, have a detrimental effect on their parents’ ability to claim them as dependents on federal tax returns. Nor will it affect a students’ scholarship eligibility, except in extremely rare cases involving grants that depend on a student staying in a particular place.

The Guide finds that some states create hurdles for students wishing to vote:

  • Some states make it more difficult for students to establish residency in their school communities. Idaho and Tennessee have particularly restrictive residency rules. In those states, students who don’t affirmatively plan to live in the state after graduating cannot be residents for voting purposes.
  • A handful of other states condition voting residency on students’ future plans if those plans are definite. In Indiana and Florida, for example, a student can establish voting residency only if she has no definitive intention to move back to her previous address after graduating. Similarly, in Virginia, a student’s plan to leave the state after graduating may weigh against her ability to establish residency, and local election officials have discretion to determine whether individual students satisfy registration requirements
  • In Michigan and Tennessee, first-time voters who register by mail are required to vote in person, making absentee voting impossible for students attending distant schools to vote in their hometowns.
  • In Arizona, voters must present proof of citizenship to register to vote and proof of residency to cast a ballot, placing an unusually high burden on student voters, who may not have in-state driver’s licenses or other forms of accepted documentation.


“States with more restrictive requirements for student voters tend to have lower youth turnout,” said Jennifer Rosenberg, a fellow at the Brennan Center who also worked on the Guide. Arizona, Indiana, Tennessee, and Virginia are among the ten states with the lowest voter turnout among 18 to 24 year-olds in the 2004 presidential election, according to Census figures.

“In addition to making available this resource for student voters and those who work with them, the Brennan Center will continue to monitor state practices to ensure that students’ voting rights are protected in 2008 and beyond,” said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Center’s voting rights and elections work. “We hope that students will use the information in this Guide to become better informed about their rights and to protect themselves against misinformation or efforts to mislead them.”

The Guide includes an interactive map that explains the basic residency, registration, identification, and absentee voting requirements for student voters in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The full guide is available on the Brennan Center’s website,