“Where do you live?” might have been an easy question to answer before the pandemic.
But now, the answer is often prefaced with a complicated story of fleeing a city for your parents’ house with a yard, relocating to a second home or the suburbs, or moving around for the fun of it, or because your previous housing fell through.
So amid remote work, Zoom classes and general pandemic chaos, voting — and the sometimes confusing rules surrounding it — may be the last thing on your mind.
With Nov. 3 just around the corner, here’s what you should know about voting after relocating during the pandemic.
First, decide where you’ll be voting. (It’s not always obvious.)
Residency requirements for voting vary from state to state. For example, the New York State Board of Elections says you need to be a resident of the state as well as the county, city or village where you plan to vote for at least 30 days before the election.
But what, exactly, is a resident?
Even if you won’t be living at the address where you’re registered to vote — an apartment back in the city, for example, while you’re staying with your parents elsewhere — in the days leading up to the election, you can still vote at your permanent address.
Much of the decision comes down to whether you have an “intent to remain” at the address you’ve moved to, said Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at Democracy Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports free and fair elections.
“It’s absolutely legal for someone to vote in a state or city they have moved from if they intend to go back there,” she said, adding that if you move shortly before the election — especially within the window of residency requirements in your new home state — you can vote at your previous address.
You may also want to consider if the state you moved to has same-day registration, which allows you to register on or before Election Day at the polls. (You will most likely need to provide proof of residency, such as a utility bill.)
One thing to keep in mind if you’re thinking about voting at your temporary residence: In some states, registering to vote can be a declaration of residency, which could complicate things if you plan to be there only temporarily.
Make sure you’re registered to vote in that state.
To verify registration status or to register to vote, check with your local election authorities, such as the secretary of state or board of elections in your state. (For an unofficial check, Vote.org offers election information for all 50 states.)
If you moved within the same state, county or even city, it’s still important to update voter registration records with your new address, Ms. Patrick said.
And if you’re registered to vote in more than one state, no need to worry that you have broken the law, Ms. Patrick said: It’s purposely difficult to cancel a voter registration, and states are aware that some people are registered in multiple places.
It is illegal, however, to vote in more than one place or otherwise cast more than one ballot in a presidential election. Although President Trump suggested this month that voters in North Carolina should vote twice — by mail and in person — in at least 28 states, it’s a felony to vote more than once in the same election. (Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, directed voters to disregard the president’s suggestion.)
The punishment for voting more than once varies by state. For example, in Georgia, the maximum penalty is up to 10 years of jail time and a fine of up to $100,000.
Decide how you’ll be voting.
There are three main ways to vote: in person, by mail or with an absentee ballot.
To vote in person, simply show up at your assigned polling location on Election Day. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer early voting in person, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan advocacy group.
You can also vote by mail. All registered voters in California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia will automatically get a ballot in the mail.
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Absentee voting, also called mail-in voting, is another option, allowing you to vote in elections specific to your permanent address while you’re residing elsewhere (including outside the state or the country). In 35 states, either no excuse is required to vote absentee or avoiding the coronavirus is accepted as a reason for wanting to do so.
Six states require an excuse besides the virus to vote absentee: Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Once you’ve decided where and how you’ll be voting, don’t wait to register — especially if you’ll be voting by mail.
If you want to vote absentee, you’ll need to apply to do so. (Keep in mind that it’s a separate application from the form to register to vote.)
In 35 states, you can request a ballot so close to Election Day that it might not be received and sent back in time to be counted, according to a New York Times analysis of mail-in voting dates around the country.
So don’t procrastinate.
If you’re a college student, you can vote where you go to school (if you’re actually there).
If you’re living at or near your college, you can vote there. Follow local guidelines for voter registration. Most schools have polling locations on campus, too.
And in states that impose certain obligations on residents, students who declare residency — whether accidentally or on purpose — by registering to vote where they go to school may face fewer such residency requirements. For instance, most states exempt students from having to get a state driver’s license or ID.
If you’re experiencing homelessness or don’t have a permanent address, you can still vote.
People experiencing homelessness are able to vote in all 50 states.
If you’re staying with friends or relatives and can receive mail at their home, you can use their address to register.
You can also use the address of a shelter where you stay or frequently visit, and it is also permissible to list a street corner or park as a residence on some states’ voter registration forms.