Colorado will mail out its first round of ballots on Friday.
The state has tens of thousands of college students — including those who are in-state and out-of-state, whether or not they are living near their school during the coronavirus pandemic — who are eligible to participate in this year’s election.
And even though get-out-the-vote groups aren’t canvassing on campuses thanks to the pandemic, students can still make their voices heard at the ballot box.
Here’s what student voters need to know:
Am I eligible to vote in Colorado, even if I’m not from here?
In Colorado, students get to choose their residency when it comes to their voter registration. Someone who recently moved to Colorado is a resident after living here for 22 days.
Molly Fitzpatrick, Boulder County’s clerk and recorder, said most college students who moved to their campus’ community for the fall term will have lived here more than long enough by the time they go to vote.
Students and nonstudents alike can register to vote all the way through Election Day, but if they register after the mail-in ballot deadline of Oct. 26, they will have to vote in-person.
So long as a student is a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age or older, and currently lives in the state or intends to return here at some point, their voter registration here will be valid.
Even if you’re living in your home state and taking classes remotely at a Colorado school instead of living in on-campus housing or the surrounding community, you can still vote in Colorado.
Students and other Colorado residents who are homeless can use a location where they frequently return, also known as a “home base,” in their voter registration, though that address must be able to receive mail.
What if I’m from Colorado, but I’m living in another state (or country) for school?
If a student is from Colorado but attends school elsewhere, they can still choose to register and vote on Colorado issues, even if they will not be physically in the state on Election Day.
Every voter registered in Colorado, whether living in the state or elsewhere, will receive a mail-in ballot if they register by Oct. 26.
“Our system, now, where if you’re registered to vote you get a ballot, it clears up a lot of confusion and enfranchises a lot of people inherently,” Fitzpatrick said.
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Students going to school in another state, as well as those mailing in their ballots in Colorado, must send in the ballot with enough time to be received by their county elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3 this year. In other words, don’t wait until the last minute. For students studying overseas, the deadline to return ballots extends an additional eight days. The same is true for members of the military.
If a student is going to college out of the state and wants to vote there instead of in Colorado, Fitzpatrick recommends they look into that state’s voter registration laws to make sure they adhere to any residency requirements and registration deadlines.
OK, but where am I *supposed* to register?
That’s up to the student. For some students, they vote where they feel like “home” is. Others vote in the location where they feel most passionate about the issues on the ballot.
Sometimes it comes down to the path of least resistance. Updating voter registration with every new residence can be laborious, but it ensures that a student will always get their ballot. In contrast, leaving a voter registration at a permanent address, like a childhood home, is convenient, though that may be hours away from where they’re currently living, even for in-state students.
Students can think through why they may want to vote in one location or another, and having a conversation with family members about it can be helpful, Fitzpatrick said. But “ultimately it is a student’s decision where they register to vote.”
Regardless of where a student votes, Fitzpatrick reminds them to only vote once, and only where they’re registered, even if they get a ballot from another state (or county) prior to updating their registration.
I’ve heard there can be issues with verifying signatures for first-time voters…
Welcome to democracy, first-time voter! The legitimacy of a completed mail-in ballot is determined by comparing a voter’s signature on file to the signature on the envelope the ballot is mailed in. Once the envelope arrives to an elections center and its signer’s identity is verified, the ballot itself is separated from the envelope.
Fitzpatrick acknowledges that signature verification can be tricky for this cohort. There are few other reference signatures — such as previous ballots or voter registration papers — for first-time voters, and signatures from the DMV, where many folks register to vote, are notoriously garbled.
Luckily for Colorado voters, the state is deploying a new system this election season to help cure, or fix, ballots where election judges cannot verify a signature. (Previously, voters only received notice that their ballot was in question through snail mail.) Most Colorado voters will use Ballottrax, though Denver uses BallotTRACE. Once a voter signs up, they can not only be sure that they are digitally notified if there is an issue verifying their signature; they also can track their mail-in ballot.
For those voting in person, they won’t have to worry about issues with signature verification, since election judges will verify a voter’s identity on the spot.
What if my school, place of residence or community is under some form of quarantine order due to the coronavirus pandemic?
In the time of COVID-19, voting is still a right in Colorado. Not even the pandemic can take that away.
Everyone who registers to vote in Colorado will receive a mail ballot. Students living in Colorado can simply fill theirs out and take it to a 24-hour drop box or mail it in early enough that it arrives by 7 p.m. on Election Day. This would not violate public health orders, as it would not involve gathering in a public space.
Different counties, and other states, will have different guidance for how to vote while under a public health order.
For Boulder County specifically — home to the state’s largest campus, the University of Colorado Boulder — Fitzpatrick said that the elections division has been working closely with the local public health department. Any public health order will make exceptions to allow in-person voting, in case someone did not receive a ballot in the mail.
“Voting is absolutely the most sacred right for us as Americans,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every individual needs to have their opportunity to have their voice heard.”
To register to vote or update your voter registration in Colorado:
- If you already have a driver’s license or other state-issued ID card, go to www.govotecolorado.gov.
- If you do not have a state-issued ID, you can print voter registration forms from the Secretary of State’s website and send them back via postal mail, fax or email.
- You can also register in person at a DMV, disability services office, voter service and polling center, or voter registration drive.
For more information on voting while in college, go to the Secretary of State’s website.