For college students, absentee voting is helpful, but sometimes complicated

USC students weigh in as mail-in voting offers convenience and potential complications.

After months of paradigm shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the presidential election is facing many modifications. The pandemic has brought significant alterations to the way voting is being conducted for this election.

Many states have their own policies regarding absentee voting, which can create confusion among voters about what steps should be taken to get their vote in.

Absentee voting is allowed in every U.S. state, but was historically reserved for soldiers deployed with U.S. armed forces or those who couldn’t physically make it to the ballot.

However, as a result of the pandemic, at least 35 states have changed their policies on absentee ballot eligibility.

States like California, New Jersey and Nevada have automatically sent absentee ballots to registered voters. Some officials may use the terms mentioned before like “all-mail voting” or “universal vote by mail” in these states.

Other states like New York have tweaked policies to extend absentee voting eligibility to those who are “unable to appear personally at the polling place of the election district in which they are a qualified voter because there is a risk of contracting or spreading a disease causing illness to the voter or to other members of the public.”

Since college students often don’t live at permanent addresses and sometimes live outside of their home state to attend school, they often face difficulty voting, and the variability of registration in states does not make it any easier. For example, dorms can be rejected as proof of residency because they are not considered permanent housing. Additionally, many states require a state driver’s license or ID card, making it difficult for out-of-state students to register to vote in the state they go to school in.

Absentee ballots, therefore, are a frequently-used option. At USC, students face different voting circumstances, based on the options afforded to them.

Kevin Paul, a USC sophomore currently living in Texas--where mail-in ballots are restricted to people 65 or older, sick or disabled, out of county or in jail--is voting in-person on election day.

Even when all the right steps are taken, there can still be delays for people trying to get all their official forms and cast their vote.

Aisha Kazembe, a junior at USC living near campus, is voting in Iowa’s elections via absentee ballot. “It took a really long time for the application to get here and it’s taking a long time for the ballot too,” she said.

Some states require specific excuses or sections of the voter’s forms notarized before they can submit or even receive their absentee ballots. As a result of the pandemic, voters saw an increased accessibility to absentee ballots, which significantly helped ease the process in some states for a lot of college students.

Vishesh Amin, a sophomore at USC, who is registered to vote in Arizona, already voted by mail and had no problems.

“Voting by mail was more convenient than going to an in-person voting center, and I would prefer not to be in an area with a high concentration of people to avoid possible corona[virus] exposure,” he said.

Visit your state’s Voting Information Center to register to vote and find information about voting by mail. If you’re in California, the deadline for in-person registration Nov. 3, and the deadline for absentee ballot request is Oct. 27. The deadline for return by mail: Postmarked by Nov. 3 and received no later than Nov. 20, deadline for return in person: Nov. 3 by 8:00 p.m.