Voting FAQ for College Students

Where do I vote — my university’s town or the town I grew up in?

As a college student, you may choose to register yourself in the town you’re attending college or the town you lived before college. It’s your choice. The address you put on the part of your voter registration form, “Address Where You Live,” is the address that will determine what local races and ballot issues you’ll vote on, and it can be different from the “Address Where You Get Your Mail.” The get-your-mail address just tells the Clerk where to mail your voting information, and it can be a campus or off-campus address, or even your parents’ home. Whether or not you decide to register yourself as a Columbia voter, you can use the registration form with the Boone County Clerk’s address on the back – or better yet*, use the online form to generate your personalized form and then print, sign and mail it.  If your where-you-live address is not in Columbia, the form will be forwarded to the appropriate county clerk.

  • Example 1: Angela Johnson moved to Columbia from St. Louis. She lives here most of the time but goes to St. Louis on many weekends. She knows St. Louis well and wants to make her voice heard on issues and candidates in St. Louis, so she enters her parents’ St. Louis address in the where-you-live part and her dorm address in the where-you-get-mail part. 
  • Example 2: Teresa Smith moved to Columbia from St. Louis as a freshman. Now she’s a junior, and has decided to register in Columbia since there will be issues on the ballots affecting landlords and tenants, which will affect Teresa directly since she plans to rent an apartment next year. She puts her dorm address on the where-you-live part of the form and leaves the where-you-get-mail part blank. Both students mail their forms to the Boone County Clerk.

If you register to vote (Line 5) outside of Boone County, you must request an absentee ballot from that other place’s election authority no later than 5:00 p.m. on the Wednesday before each election you want to vote in. If you register to vote in Columbia, you’ll just go to your polling place on Election Day.

How should I decide where to vote?

There are lots of things to consider when deciding what to put as your Line 5 address. Are you very interested in candidates and issues in your home? What about Columbia politics? Sometimes candidates for office in Columbia and Boone County and ballot issues may have direct effects on students, and sometimes students and recent alums even run for office. State representatives from Columbia are there to speak for the students, faculty and staff of the colleges and universities that make up a substantial share of their constituents.

On the one hand, you personally might leave Columbia and not be affected by the issues and candidates you vote for directly. On the other hand, new students will be taking your place, and they don’t have a chance to vote now.  Consider that your vote now is a vote for “the students living in Columbia,” both present and future.  And you never know…many alumni end up staying in Boone County after they graduate.  Perhaps you will be one of these.

Practically speaking, which inconvenience would you rather face: changing your voting address (Line 5) electronically each time you move, which you’ll have to do if your Line 5 address is in Columbia, or requesting an absentee ballot each time you want to vote in an election (in 2012, that’s potentially up to three more elections – municipal, party primary, and general elections), which you’ll have to do if your Line 5 address is in another jurisdiction? For information on requesting absentee ballots, see the Missouri Secretary of State’s site at www.sos.state.mo.us.

What if I’m not sure if or where I was registered at an earlier time?

If you registered earlier at some other address (again, we’re talking about Line 5 here), or even think you might have but you aren’t sure, put that address on Line 10. It’s okay to squish two addresses on Line 10 if there are two possible places you might have registered earlier – when in doubt, put it down. What makes things hard for the clerk is if you are registered elsewhere and don’t tell the clerk.

Do I need to do anything special if I’m registering to vote for the first time?

If registering by mail for the first time, you may provide a copy of appropriate identification: current or valid photo ID, copy of current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows your name and the address you’re putting on Line 5. Or, you can just bring this proof of name and address with you the first time you vote.

What’s the age requirement?

You must be 18 years of age by the day of a particular election to be eligible to vote in that election. You may register to vote before you’re 18. – you just can’t vote until you’re 18.

How long before an election must I register?

You must register at least 28 days prior to the election; the form must be received on the 4th Wednesday preceding the election, which is always held on a Tuesday. Once registered, you won’t have to re-register for future elections. Note that the form must be received by the Clerk by these dates.

What’s my address if I live in a dorm?

If you are a student at MU, you do not need to include a street address.  Simply the name of the dorm plus your room number is sufficient.   Leave Line 6 blank.

If you are a student at Columbia College or Stephens College, use your dorm address for Line 5 and you PO box for Line 6.

What happens if I change the address where I live?

If you register in Columbia, and you move addresses within Boone County, you can go to the County Clerk’s Web page, http://www.showmeboone.com/clerk, look yourself up, and update your address using the online Change of Address form.

Do I register as a member of a political party in Missouri?

No. You just register to vote, period. When you vote in a primary election, the election official will ask you which party’s ballot you want. If you participate in a delegate-electing caucus after a primary election, you must sign a statement swearing that you did not vote in another party’s primary election.

Where can I get a voter registration card?

The Boone County Clerk’s Web site has a form you can print out and mail in. You may also request a mail-in application by phone, 24 hours a day, at 875-VOTE. You can also pick up postcard registration forms at the post office or the public library. Other civic organizations such as the League of Women Voters, and advocacy organizations such the NAACP or the Sierra Club may also be able to supply you with a postcard registration card. However, returning your card to anyone other than the County Clerk does not constitute meeting the deadline unless that third party gives your registration to the County Clerk’s office by the deadline.

Where can I go for further information on voting?

The Boone County Clerk’s office is staffed by helpful people who can answer any further questions about voting technicalities. Their phone number is 886-4375. The Boone County Clerk’s Web site is also full of good information. The reference librarians at your college or university library and Columbia Public Library can help you find information on candidates and issues, and the League of Women Voters and other organizations present limited information on candidates in brochures and on the web (see, for instance, our Candidate and Issue Links sections), and also holds candidate and issue forums before local elections. The Columbia Daily Tribune’s web archive is a good place to look up candidates and issues to check their news coverage. The Missouri Secretary of State presides over state elections.

*Why is it better to use the County Clerk’s online form than a printed form?

Each election, many registration errors are made when County Clerk employees have to transcribe handwritten information on forms.  Filling out the form online and generating the printed form helps with that.  Also, when you fill the form out online, that already adds some information to the County Clerk’s voter database immediately.  All they need then, to make the registration official and complete, is your signature, which they get when you print, sign and mail in the form.  So it’s not a completely online process yet, but it’s still better than just using the old paper forms.

Boone County Clerk: http://www.showmeboone.com/clerk
Missouri Secretary of State: http://www.sos.mo.gov
MU, Ellis Library Ask A Librarian: http://mulibraries.missouri.edu/showmehow/contactus.aspx
Columbia Public Library: http://www.dbrl.org/branch/columbia
Custom Columbia News Search (Google): http://bit.ly/lX39SE
League of Women Voters of Columbia, Boone County: http://lwv.columbia.missouri.org

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