Civic duty from a distance: A dummy’s guide to absentee voting

When I was seventeen and looking at colleges, I was ready to venture beyond the happy city of Apple Valley, Minnesota. So naturally, when I stumbled upon Hope College, I was over the moon to be going to school close enough to home that my family wouldn’t worry and far enough from it that I had the freedom to explore somewhere new. While it was a grand adventure for the first few months—adapting to a new city, meeting new people who thought my hometown was something straight out of a comic book and experiencing a refreshing sense of independence—reality quickly settled in. You see, the thing about being far away from home is that you really are away from home. Managing work schedules, figuring out taxes and braving long distance calls that always lag on Hope’s WiFi was not quite what I had in mind when I made my decision. But, more than anything else, the real thorn in my side has been voting. You heard me. Voting from a distance has been one of the most frustrating processes I’ve experienced. Previously, I’ve managed to scrape by with early voting while I’ve been home for breaks, but the timing of this primary cycle didn’t work out, so here I was, far from home and scrambling to figure out how to vote. Given that primary/caucus season is upon us, I have decided that it’s time we review how to do our civic duty from a distance, so that maybe, just maybe, I can help those who belong in the chunk of Hope’s student body that are from out of state. I present to you the dummy’s guide to absentee voting.


Step 1: Find out when your election day is.

A few months ago, it dawned on me that this is an election year, and not just any election, but a presidential election. Eligible voters in the United States of America have a big responsibility on their hands: they get to pick the leader of one of the most influential nations in the world. 

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in.

I was bumbling along Facebook one day, procrastinating as per usual, when I saw that some friend of a friend posted about requesting an absentee ballot. I had not thought that far ahead, so I did some research and pretty soon I discovered that my primary, which I thought was months away, was coming up just a few weeks later. A simple web search can tell you when your primary date is.

Step 2: Make sure you’re registered to vote.

Every state (with the exception of North Dakota) requires its residents to complete a one-time registration in order to vote on election day. This step is simple, yet there are still so many eligible voters that aren’t registered. One of the easiest ways of doing this is going on to register as a voter with your home state. Also confirm how early in advance you need to register. Some states, like Minnesota, allow you to register to vote on election day, but others, like Alabama, require people to register 15 days in advance, so be sure to check with your home state on to see what is required for advance registration.

Step 3: Request an absentee ballot.

In a few states, this demands more than just putting in a state identification number and your mailing address. Some states require that you’re registered with a political party to participate and others need only to know which party’s ballot you wish to receive. Either way, has an abundance of information about state-specific policies, so definitely head that way for any uncertainties you have in the process.

Step 4: Fill out said ballot.

For some, this process is much more complicated than others. The state of Minnesota requires that anyone filling out an absentee ballot needs to do so in the presence of either another registered voter from Minnesota or a notary and receive a signature from that witness. While my friend group on campus is composed of people from a number of different states, I remain the only one from Minnesota. I did briefly consider facetiming my sister for her to be my witness and just signing for her, however, I didn’t want to compromise the validity of my vote, so that option was out the door pretty quickly. Without any fellow Minnesotans to come to my aid, that left one choice: find a notary.

Believe it or not, this task was not as difficult as it seems. Being a student on a college campus that is filled with several offices that would typically  have notaries makes this part of my job so much easier. I wasn’t quite sure which office would give me the best chance at finding one so I decided on my best bet: Human Resources in the Anderson-Werkman building. My guess turned out to be right and I landed at a desk across from Dianna Machiela, who was more than happy to assist with my task. Machiela seemed a little surprised at the need for a notary, but I explained the instructions I’d been given and she gladly obliged, walking with me through all of the steps after I’d selected my candidate until I sealed my ballot.

Step 5: Mail in your ballot.

With my ballot completed and officially notarized, that left me with the simple task of dropping off the envelope in the “outgoing mail” box at Mail Services in DeWitt. One thing to note about this part is that some states require that your ballot is postmarked a certain amount of days prior to the election or that they receive it by a certain time. Minnesota requires that it receives my ballot by election day, so I had to make sure that I mailed my ballot several days in advance to ensure that it got there in time to be counted.

Step 6: Celebrate your accomplishment.

Once the hefty packet was out of my hands, I breathed a sigh of relief. That was a lot of work for one single vote in a primary, but it was well worth it. American voters have the privilege of choosing the candidate that they want to represent them in government, a luxury not afforded to all people everywhere. Therefore, take your ability to vote seriously because while it may be a tedious and long process, your vote matters.

Emma ('20) was the Beyond Editor for The Anchor during the spring semester of 2020 after having served as a staff writer the previous fall. A lifelong storyteller, Emma harnessed her love for reading books into writing short stories and joined The Anchor in the fall of 2018 as a guest writer to learn a more journalistic approach to writing. Emma loves that writing gets her out and exploring her community and speaking to all kinds of people. An apt traveler and history nerd, Emma translates her love for learning about far away places into both her Global Studies and French majors. When she’s not writing, you can find her sipping a coffee, out for a run, or perusing a library for her next great read.

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