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Voting Tips for College Students

First time voters and college students often find themselves caught in the technicalities of MI election laws. Here are a few tips for college students in Michigan to help guide you through:

Eligibility:  You can register to vote in the State of Michigan if you are:

     1.)  18 (or will turn 18 by the date of the next election)
     2.)  a U.S. citizen and
     3.)  a resident of the State of Michigan.

Where to register:  If you are eligible to vote in Michigan, you must register where you maintain your principal residence in the state.  As a college student, you can register from your campus address or the address where you previously resided before moving to campus (provided that you still view your previous address as your “principal” residence in the state).

The Bottom Line: MI will only keep one registration address so you have to choose whether home or school is going to be your "principal residence."

The 30 Day Rule:  Always keep in mind that almost any change you make to your voter registration status will take 30 days to get through the system.  Give your clerk enough time to get you onto the voter file before an election, or plan to vote at home if you change your address the day before the election.  If you don't get your new registration in 30 days before an election, you aren't going to vote.

How to register:  You can register by visiting any Secretary of State branch office or your local city or township clerk’s office.  You can also register to vote by mail.  Michigan’s mail-in voter registration application form can be downloaded here.

If you register to vote by mail, you must appear in person to vote in the first election in which you wish to participate.  Therefore, if you anticipate that you will need an absent voter ballot for the first election in which you participate after registering, registering through a Secretary of State branch office or your local clerk’s office is recommended.  (Additional information on the absent voter ballot application process appears below.)

The Bottom Line: If you plan to register by mail, plan to show up on election day.  If you haven't already voted and want to vote absentee, plan to drop in on the clerk to register.

Other things you need to know:  The law requires Michigan residents to use the same residential address for both vote registration and driver license purposes.  Therefore, if the address you submit on a voter registration application does not match the address on your driver license, the Department of State will mail you an address update sticker for your driver license.  (The address update sticker will be handed to you if you register to vote in a Secretary of State branch office.)

Regardless of the address you use for voter registration and driver license purposes, you can maintain a separate “mailing address” if you wish to receive mail pertaining to your voter registration and driver license at a different address.

You are free to change your voter registration/driver license address as frequently as needed.  No fees are assessed for address changes.

The Bottom Line: Since MI only keeps one "principal address" on record for your driver's license and your voter registration, if you change one, you'll change them both.  You can tell where you're expected to vote if your driver's license is current.

NEW VOTERS HAVE IT ROUGH. Because of new federal law (the Help America Vote Act passed after the election difficulties in 2000) first-time voters in Michigan should plan to vote in person. There are a series of complicated exceptions, but for the most part, if you've never voted before, don't plan on voting absentee.

ALSO, first-time voters may have to show ID at the polls, depending on how you registered. Details can be found here, but the basic idea is that unless you showed ID to an actual election official when you registered, do not assume you are safe: bring ID.

Curiously, your voter registration card does not count as ID. A Michigan Driver's License counts, and you can also bring a utility bill in your name at your registered address. The rest of the official list is here.

The Bottom Line: First-Time Voters in Michigan should plan to vote in person (if that means you have to go home on election day, make plans to GO HOME), and you should bring ID.

RETURNING VOTERS may obtain an absentee ballot.

Obtaining absent voter ballots:  If you expect to be absent from the city or township where you are registered to vote for the entire time the polls are open on election day (7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.), you can obtain an absent voter ballot by submitting a written request to the clerk of the city of township who holds your voter registration.  Your written request must include your signature and the address where you wish to receive your ballot.  A preprinted absent voter ballot application form can be obtained through your city or township clerk’s office upon request.

The Bottom Line: Your local election clerk is your best bet at getting through this process.  You can find your clerk here.

Election Fraud: Is a Federal Offense.  Occasionally people try to vote more than once.  Don't. It's not even remotely worth the penalty.

Additional information:  Additional information on registering and voting in Michigan can be found here.

Voter registration and election participation rates among 18 to 24 years old are the lowest for any age group.

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