Summer is slowly coming to a close, and that means that college students will be making their way back to school. This year, my own daughter will begin her freshman year. My wife and I are very proud of her, as you can well imagine.
Among the moving boxes and seemingly endless preparations that go along with making the move to college, something like voter registration might slip through the cracks. However, for newly-minted 18-year-olds, this coming November will be their very first opportunity to cast their ballots. Studies have shown that if a young person casts a vote when they first become eligible, they will be more likely to remain civically engaged throughout their lives. An informed and engaged electorate is vital to a thriving democracy, and regular voting habits should be encouraged among our young people.
An individual is eligible to register to vote in Virginia if they are a current resident of Virginia, a citizen of the United States, and will be 18 on or before the day of the next November General Election, which is Nov. 5 this year. There are many ways to obtain and complete an application to register to vote. An application can be easily and quickly completed online at www.elections.virginia.gov, at the DMV, at a local government office, at a public library, or in the community at a voter registration drive. If completed in paper format, the forms are then required to be mailed to the registrar’s office (Fairfax County Office of Elections, P.O. Box 10161 Fairfax, VA 22038-8061) or hand-delivered to 12000 Government Center Parkway Suite 323, Fairfax, Va. The deadline to register or update registrations is 22 days before the election, which will be Oct. 15 this year. An important fact to note for new voters is that we do not register to vote by party in Virginia. Virginia is an open primary state, which means that a registered voter has the option of voting in either the Democratic or Republican primary (but only one).
For college students who will be unable to return home, like my daughter, in order to cast their ballots, they will be eligible to vote absentee. Once registered, students can go online to apply for an absentee ballot to be mailed to them: https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation. This form can also be downloaded and mailed to the P.O. Box address listed above. The deadline to request a ballot is seven days prior to the election, and completed ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 5.
I hope this information is helpful and that our young people don’t forget to vote this November and every year thereafter. It is our duty as citizens to choose who will represent us in our local, state, and federal government. A healthy democracy requires high voter participation so that your government represents you best. Don’t forget to vote, because of every election matters.