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I’m a Student From Out of State — Where Do I Vote?

What are the ethical implications of maintaining an out-of-state voter status? What is the best choice for you?

By Featured, SAIC


Illustration by Sacha Lusk.

With the  2018 Illinois primary elections fast approaching, it’s time to make a plan to vote. For college students studying outside of their home state, this can be confusing. Do you vote where your parents live, where you’ve previously registered, or in your campus’ state?

According to Rock the Vote, “Students [in Illinois] have a choice about where to register to vote. Students attending college may register at their campus address or choose to remain registered or register at their permanent or home address.” While this appears to be a pretty clear-cut answer, the ethics of choosing where to vote as an out of state college student are ambiguous.

As we noticed in the 2016 election, the Electoral College had the power to manipulate the will of the people (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote). For many, the election illuminated the failure of democracy in the United States, the systematic failure on the part of our government to represent the will of the people, and the urgent need for direct democracy to be implemented or at least considered.

But until that happens, is it unethical — as a college student — to choose your state of registration based on the power given to your vote by the electoral college?

Here’s an example: I’m from Texas: a notoriously red state with notoriously rampant voter suppression. With 38 Electoral College delegates, we’re the second largest concentration of electoral votes. I don’t know if I’ll permanently return to Texas anytime soon. However, I do maintain my Texas driver’s license, am dependent on my parents in Texas, and visit regularly. I vote in Texas, rather than blue-state Illinois, because my blue vote is more impactful in that red state.

The ethics of this are pretty simple: I’m about as rooted in Texas as I am in Illinois, and I depend on the state for things like health insurance. My vote there matters. But I’m not everyone.

For a student who is never returning to their home state, or simply isn’t involved in its politics  anymore, it can feel almost criminal to give said state their vote. Most of the time, it’s totally legal (or at least not expressly illegal). outlines residency requirements for each state, and while most require that you’re a resident of the state you vote in, there’s no clear definition of ‘resident.’ Combine this with your out of state student status, and we’re back at square one in terms of ethics and ambiguity.

This is further complicated when the impact of presidential, local, and gubernatorial elections are compared. Voters should vote in every election available. It’s tempting to maintain your out-of-state registration in hopes of influencing the Presidential elections, but it’s harmful to do so. Not only does this mean you’re abstaining from local politics in your state of registration, but because you are not registered in your college town, you are also prohibited from participating in their local politics. Local politics are the roots of change, the foundation of our government, and are profoundly impactful on an intimate level. Excusing yourself from local politics in two counties for the sake of the Presidential election is harmful to you and others. If you are going to vote out of state, it is unethical to ignore non-presidential elections.

All this to say, if you’re an out of state college student, make the voting choice that works best for you. Whatever that choice is, go all in. Participate wholly and fully. Pay attention to the races and issues, and participate as an educated voter. College students are profoundly impacted by politics on all levels; our votes matter.  

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