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Voting 101: It’s Easy, Fast, and Important

Deadline for registering to vote is in two weeks


Despite the efforts of both President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to reach young voters, a Gallup poll published in July found that only 58 percent of young people (18-29 years old) plan to cast a ballot in November’s election. They give a variety of reasons for deciding to sit out the election, including frustration over the poor economy and disappointment with the president’s first term.

Just four years ago, the youth vote proved crucial in catapulting Barack Obama to the White House. Obama captured 66 percent of the 18-to-29-year-old vote, defeating U.S. Senator John McCain by a more than two to one margin. The 2008 election saw the second highest youth voter turnout ever (the highest, 55 percent, was in 1972, the first year 18-year-olds were allowed to vote in a presidential election). With the race for the White House still in a dead heat, the youth vote could again decide the next president.

The deadline to register to vote is fast approaching, warns Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), dean of students, who notes, “Voting is our simple service to society. Voting is democracy’s bold move. Even better, it is available to almost every citizen.”

Are you registered to vote? Thinking about changing your voter registration to Massachusetts? Unsure of how to go about obtaining an absentee ballot? BU Today has put together a guide to help answer your questions.

Who can vote?

American citizens who are 18 years old on or before Election Day, Tuesday, November 6.

When is the deadline to register to vote?

The deadline to register to vote in Massachusetts is Wednesday, October 17. This means that your registration form must be postmarked October 17 at the latest or it will not be valid for this year’s November election.

The deadline for registering in other states varies. Find a list here and select your state from the map.

How can I register to vote?

Whether you’re planning to register in Massachusetts or in your home state, details about how to complete the process are here.

If you are a resident of 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. Mail the completed form to:
  • Boston Election Department
    One City Hall Square
    Room 241
    Boston, MA 02201

  • 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.)Boston Election Department
    One City Hall Square
    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.

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 use one to vote?

Whether you’re a college student registered in another state, are from Massachusetts but can’t get home to vote on Election Day, plan to be traveling and can’t get to the polls that day, are disabled, or are a member of the military, there’s no reason not to vote. As long as you’re already a registered voter, you can obtain an absentee ballot. Here’s how:

First, download and print the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s National Mail Voter Registration form for information on applying for an absentee ballot. Fill out the necessary information and return it to the board of elections. This works for most states.

Be aware that your application needs to be processed before your ballot is sent to you, so check the deadlines for absentee ballot applications on your state’s website and allow for adequate time.

Once you receive your absentee ballot in the mail, read the instructions carefully—they typically require using a black or blue 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 the polls close to send your ballot back.

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

Most states have websites with detailed information about registering, casting an absentee ballot, and voting in person. The Dean of Students Office also has a helpful website with more information. Use them.

This is an update of a story published September 29, 2008.

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

13 Comments on Voting 101: It’s Easy, Fast, and Important

  • Samuel Pobberstock on 10.02.2012 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for writing up this guide. I meet a lot of people who think that being frustrated with the government is a good reason *not* to vote, but I see it as the most important reason why you *should* vote. If you neglect to take advantage of this, one of your most important rights, you should have no reason to hope for improvement; your “protest” becomes nothing more than idle complaint.

    You don’t always have to vote for a major candidate. You could write in a vote for Barry Manilow, or whomever, and it would still be better than simply not voting at all.

  • Carly on 10.02.2012 at 11:43 am

    Fantastic information!! Thanks.

  • Amy M Laskowski on 10.02.2012 at 12:19 pm

    A few more resources, thanks to reader Kevin G!

    The Secretary of the Commonwealth now has the MA voter reg form and other instructions available online: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleifv/howreg.htm

    The Secretary’s website also has a section specific to students: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elestudents/studentsidx.htm

    The Massachusetts Elections Division shares useful info about voting at http://www.twitter.com/MrVoterReg

  • yafee on 10.02.2012 at 12:31 pm

    Much more appropriate would have been a photo of a ballot that did not have a vote cast. Disappointed.

    • abl on 10.02.2012 at 8:50 pm

      yafee –

      The presumption being that if you are reading this you will by default be voting for President Obama. Didn’t you know that by now?

  • Overlord of the Freshmen on 10.02.2012 at 1:14 pm

    Why did they show the person filling that bubble on the ballot?….

    • Why does it matter on 10.03.2012 at 7:49 am

      The photo is from a Flickr photostream (click the Photographer’s name) and happens to be a good composition showing voting. Why is it such a problem that they did show the bubble filled in?

      • abl on 10.03.2012 at 7:10 pm

        The article is supposedly about voting. Not voting for Obama.

  • Jonathan on 10.02.2012 at 11:03 pm

    @Samuel, voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil. When we are only given the choice between two candidates, who in my view are essentially the same, there really is no choice. A third party candidate, such as Gary Johnson, has no hope in winning. So in this sense, voting is a waste of time because no legitimate change is likely to come. Mark Twain said it best: “If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

    Additionally, voting is also a waste of time if you’re from a non-battleground state, because your single vote is extremely unlikely to sway the election.

    • Anonymous on 10.03.2012 at 3:49 pm

      There are also state and local elections on the ballot, as well as ballot questions that will have a direct and immediate legal impact. Even if you don’t believe in the presidential election (and I disagree that the candidates are “essentially the same”), it is still worth voting in this election.

  • Dave on 10.05.2012 at 3:58 pm

    Does anyone know how to have BU send me a letter to verify my address? I live off campus in Brookline and don’t have any verification of address and need one to register here.

    • Becky on 10.09.2012 at 9:12 pm

      Just call an office on campus like the admissions office and ask for a favor. All they need to do is mail you a letter.

  • Freddy on 10.12.2012 at 3:09 pm

    Just make sure you get the absentee ballot request in soon, because they may mail it to your home address, where you live and not to the campus. This way your parents can forward it to you. Good luck all and it is great to see you all exercising your right to vote!!!!

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