State board of elections offers voting guidance to college students

Moss Brennan, Political Editor

COVID-19 has hit colleges across the state and country hard in the first few weeks of classes. The New York Times has tracked over 80,000 cases among students since July. 

Because of outbreaks at campuses across the country, many universities have had to send students home just months before the 2020 election due to COVID-19. 

Some schools — like NC State, ECU and UNC Chapel Hill — have gone completely remote. 

Other schools — like App State, Duke and UNC Greensboro — still have students on campus, but an outbreak of COVID-19 could change that in a heartbeat. 

So what happens if the college a student attends gets shut down and students have to leave? Can students still vote in that county? 

Patrick Gannon, spokesperson for the North Carolina State Board of Elections, said the board released voting guidance for college students to help keep them informed. 

“We wanted to make sure students who had requested a ballot, but then left their college residence because of COVID, knew that they could request a ballot to be sent to the place they would get it,” Gannon said. “This has always been an option. It’s just affecting more people this year because of the COVID situation.”

What should a student do if they are temporarily displaced from their college residence but have already requested a ballot? 

If you are temporarily living away or displaced from the residence where you are registered to vote and you intend to return later, then you are not considered to have lost your place of residence. It can remain your residential address for voting.

If you are registered to vote at your campus address and have not requested an absentee ballot, you may request a ballot (North Carolina Absentee Ballot Request Form) and have it mailed to you. This is the best option for students who are registered to vote at their campus address and know they will be leaving their campus address for the remainder of the semester.

What happens if a student is unsure what their housing will look like by the time it’s time to vote? 

If you are registered to vote at your campus address and unsure if you are leaving campus, wait until you know your housing situation before requesting a ballot.

Students who have already requested a ballot but must leave campus due to COVID-19 or for any other reason may submit a new request to have their ballot sent to a different address. Students or others who submit a new form can make a note on the new form, such as “Updated” or “Changed” to alert county elections workers that it is an updated request. They can also email or contact their county board office to ensure the ballot is sent to the updated address. 

If you have abandoned your place of residence and intend to stay at your new address indefinitely, you should register at your new residential address.

What happens if a student leaves the college residence but stays within the county? 

If you will be away from your residential or mailing address, be sure to include the address where you want your ballot to be sent on your absentee ballot request. If you have moved within your county, you may use the request form to update your residential address and/or mailing address.

Can students request an absentee ballot online? 

An online absentee ballot request portal is available on the state board’s website. The portal allows all registered voters to request a ballot online. 

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. However, election officials strongly encourage voters to request a ballot before then to ensure absentee ballot return deadlines can be met. All voters can vote in person during the early voting period, Oct. 15-31, or on Election Day – Nov. 3.

People can register to vote by going to the North Carolina Voter Registration Application or the online DMV service to register or update a registration. The regular voter registration deadline is Oct. 9. Voters can also register and vote at the same time in person during early voting if they miss the Oct. 9 deadline.