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First Time Voting? It’s a Snap

No matter where you’re from, it’s easy to cast your ballot


Click on the video above to hear how students feel about voting.

Whether because of indifference, laziness, or a simple lack of know-how, young Americans haven’t exactly turned out in droves to vote in presidential elections. When President Bush was reelected four years ago, fewer than half of the eligible 18- to 24-year-olds in the country cast a ballot.

This year may be different. Young voters appear to be more engaged in the 2008 race than in past elections.

In the video above, students talk about why they will vote, why some young people don’t, and why everyone should in this election. Below is a guide for first-time voters on registering and voting, whether at the polls or by absentee ballot.

Who can vote?
American citizens who are 18 years old on or before election day, Tuesday, November 4.

How can I register to vote?
To find out about registration in Massachusetts or in your home state, click here.

If you are a resident of Massachusetts and want to vote in Massachusetts:
By mail: Download and print a national voter registration form by clicking on the “National Mail Voter Registration Form” link on this page, or call 617-727-2828 or 1-800-462-VOTE to have one mailed to you. You can also pick up the form on campus, at the George Sherman Union Link. Mail the completed form to:

Secretary of the Commonwealth
Elections Division, Room 1705
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

In person: Go to any registration location, such as your town or city hall, and complete an affidavit of registration. You will be asked for information such as your name, residence, and date of birth. (Remember that Allston and Brighton are neighborhoods of Boston.)

City of Boston Election Department
City Hall, Room 241
Boston, MA 02201

Brookline Town Hall
333 Washington St.
Brookline, MA 02445

Cambridge City Hall
51 Inman St., First Floor
Cambridge, MA 02139

At the Registry of Motor Vehicles: You can register when applying for or renewing your driver’s license.

If you are from another state and want to vote there, see the question below about voting by absentee ballot.

When is the deadline to register to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in Massachusetts is Wednesday, October 15. This means that your registration form must be postmarked October 15 at the latest or it will not be valid for this year’s November election.

For a list of deadlines in other states, click on the “State Registration Deadlines” link on this page.

Where do I vote?
If you are registered to vote in Massachusetts, type in your address on this page to find out where you can vote.

What is an absentee ballot, and how do I vote using one?
If you are a college student, a traveler, a disabled person, or a member of the military, there’s no reason not to vote in an election. If you are a registered voter, read on to learn how to order an absentee ballot.

If you are from another state, you can vote in your home state by casting an absentee ballot. First, check your state’s board of elections Web site for information on applying for an absentee ballot. Most states will allow you to download and print the application. Fill it out with your information and return it to the board of elections.

Be aware that your application will need to be processed before your ballot is sent to you, so check the deadlines for absentee ballot applications on your state’s Web site.

Your absentee ballot will be mailed to you. Read the instructions very carefully — they typically require using a specific kind of pencil or pen.

Mail or hand-deliver the absentee ballot to your hometown elections office. Many states require that your ballot be postmarked before the polls close on election day. Others allow you a window of time after election day to send the ballot back.

In some states, you can apply for your absentee ballot and cast your vote in one visit, if you are able to visit your state two or three weeks before the election.

Most states have Web sites with detailed information about registering, casting an absentee ballot, and voting in person. Use them!

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.


4 Comments on First Time Voting? It’s a Snap

  • Elora on 10.01.2008 at 10:26 pm

    For absentee voting, another great resource is http://www.longdistancevoter.org

    Long Distance Voter is a non-partisan, comprehensive resource for absentee voters. Our site includes detailed absentee voter guides for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, that walk voters through every step of registering to vote and obtaining an absentee ballot. The guides include forms, deadlines, mailing addresses, and easy-to-follow summary of all relevant residency and voter ID laws.

    LDV is partnered with Rock the Vote, the Overseas Vote Foundation and Campus Compact.

  • David Somers on 10.02.2008 at 7:42 am

    Vote Back Home!

    If you are from a key swing state in the upcoming presidential election, you are in a privileged position to affect the outcome (assuming you are a US citizen age 18 or over). Please consider using your special status to vote in your home state, where it will count most.

    If you have already registered in Massachusetts (or elsewhere) that is OK, you can still register and vote absentee in your home state, so long as it is still your permanent residence (e.g., your parents live there). Of course you must only vote in one or the other.

    Here is all you need to do to vote absentee in another state:

    Just download the voter registration and absentee ballot request forms by going to this page
    and clicking on your state. Then fill out the two forms (voter registration and absentee ballot request), and mail them together, enclosing a copy of your drivers license or non-drivers state ID (with your home address on it). On the forms, use your residence address in your homestate that corresponds to your state ID. Give your BU address only as a mailing address on the absentee ballot request.

    Remove the cover page and send the two forms and a copy of your ID to the clerk’s address for your county.

    If you don’t know your county, look it up at

    If you are already registered, just send in the absentee ballot request, which does not need a copy of ID. If you have any special situation, find complete information at longdistancevoter.org

    But hurry: this material must be postmarked by Monday October 6.


    Prof. David Somers

  • Anonymous on 10.21.2008 at 8:05 pm


    If you were really interrested in me voting this would not have been an obama comercial. Thanks for nothing. I have a brain and can think for myself.

  • kcornuelle on 10.22.2008 at 8:55 am


    but you’re having trouble spelling with that brain.

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