You’ve graduated from college, moved out of your parents’ house, settled into a new job—and are looking to vote. You’re living out of state, but passionate about politics back home. Do you have to change your voter registration to your new address? As it turns out, the answer is: …maybe. Each state has its own voter registration laws, so it depends on where you’re from—and where you’re planning on going in the future.
Most state voter registration laws center around one word: domicile. In the legal context, a domicile is a permanent residence and the place a person intends to return to if they temporarily leave. Your domicile might be different from your place of residence. For example, if you grow up and attend college in Montana, but move to California for a job with the intent to return home to Montana in order to raise your family close to your parents, Montana would be your domicile while California is your place of residence.
Every state is different, so it’s important to see if you are allowed to claim a state as your domicile before Election Day. Some states, like Connecticut, require your “dwelling unit” to be located within the geographic boundaries of the district you vote in, meaning you must reside in the district to vote there, no matter what state you consider to be your domicile.
This isn’t to say that you must (or should) continue to vote in your domicile if you are able — there are plenty of benefits of changing your voter registration to reflect your place of residence while you are absent from your home state, including having a say in the people and policies that shape your everyday life.
Choosing where to register to vote is a personal decision that can be especially complicated for young people on the move between college, family, and career. If you’re still a student, you can probably register to vote either at your permanent residence (most likely your parents’ address) or where you attend school (using your dorm or apartment address). Some states are a little tricky—for example, Illinois law has been interpreted to assume that a student’s permanent residence, and therefore voting district, is their parents’ address, though in theory students are free to register to vote on campus or at home — so make sure to get all the facts before registering.
If you’re planning on leaving your hometown without looking back after graduation, effectively changing domiciles, you will need to register to vote in your new home. If you’re only planning on being gone for a little while and your state allows you stay registered as long as you consider them your domicile, your voter registration can stay put — but don’t forget to file for absentee ballots before each election to ensure your voice is heard while you’re gone!
If your eligibility to vote is challenged on Election Day, most states will allow you to cast a provisional ballot which will be counted upon verification of your eligibility.
No matter where you’re voting, make sure to pay attention to the details. Keep up with registration and address change deadlines, note which political party you are or are not registered with before primary elections, and be aware of your rights at the polling place. Your voice is too important to be silenced by an avoidable bureaucratic error.