College students often move from their home state to a new state when they start school. When election time comes around, they can usually register to vote in the State where they are at the time, or they can vote with an absentee ballot in their home state. For many, the decision is based on their future plans or their degree of involvement with local politics.
For students from Puerto Rico, it can be a more complicated situation — especially this year.
Those studying at colleges in the States can register in their hometowns and vote with an absentee ballot. This year, they will vote for their governor, their resident commissioner, and a yes/no on statehood.
If they have the option of registering in the state where they attend school, they can participate in the presidential election, which they cannot if they vote in Puerto Rico.
About half the states have a length of time people must have lived in the state in order to register to vote, ranging from 10 days to 30 days (the maximum allowed by the Voter Rights Act).
Many States include intention in their definition of residency: you have to plan to stay in the state in order to vote. Many students do stay on after their college careers and make their homes in the state where they studied; many don’t have a clear idea of their future intention. A plan to live in a place for four or more years may seem fairly permanent to a young voter.
Several states have specific laws for students which clarify whether a student who goes home for the summer or the holidays can register to vote in the town where they attend school.
Puerto Rico has recently updated residence requirements. For example, someone living in a state cannot claim that they have a legal residence in Puerto Rico if they rent out their home there. Students with family on the Island, however, can still use an absentee ballot. It has always been illegal to vote in more than one jurisdiction, and the new law emphasizes that fact.
Puerto Rican students
Purdue shared the example of a Puerto Rican student, Juan Matos, who wanted to be able to vote for the president — but also to vote for the Governor of Puerto Rico. He ultimately decided to vote in Puerto Rico.
It was not an easy decision. “Regardless of whether I choose who is going to be the governor,” he said, “they have a limit. And the limit is the U.S. government. Because we don’t have total control of our island.”
Those Puerto Rican students who choose not to participate in this year’s historic vote in Puerto Rico will swell the ranks of Puerto Rican voters in the States.