Folks, I just got an Ask that I simply could not believe. The reader said they were from Tennessee but moved to Vermont last month for college. If you’re a first-time voter who registered by mail in TN, you have to vote in person the first time. They said:
I currently live in VT. I picked up a voter registration form, but it says that I have to be a citizen of Vermont to vote here (which I am not). My “home state” is TN, which has very strict voter registration laws and requires you to vote in person the first time you vote. I can’t afford to fly home just to vote, and to apply for citizenship in VT I have to have lived here for at least a year (I’ve been here 4 weeks) and then have my application reviewed. *headdesk*
This sounded so fishy to me. You have to vote in person the first time? But aren’t most first-time voters college students, who may be out of state? So I did some research, and it turns out it’s TRUE. If you don’t register in person (like at the DMV or an election office), you have to be IN the state of Tennessee to vote on election day.
So for the Asker, they were already in Vermont, couldn’t get back to TN to vote or re-register in person, and couldn’t register in Vermont. In other words, they had no way to vote.
I deemed this entirely unacceptable. So your intrepid blogger just got off a 20-minute phone call with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, and there is a loophole. It’s incredibly complicated, but here’s what Beth from the lawyer’s office told me when I said I was asking for a friend:
There should be an ROTC recruitment office on her college campus. Go to that office, go to our website (govotetn.com) and there they’ll find voter registration applications, they’ll print that off, she’ll complete that form in their presence - she should bring an ID with proof of her Tennessee address - then they will mail it in THEIR envelope (an ROTC envelope with their return address), and send it to her TN county election commission office. The local election commission offices and addresses are also at that website.
After it has been processed by the election commissions, she will be eligible to vote by mail. She has to call individual county - Oct. 8 is the final deadline to request it, but her local office might be closed that day, so she should call sooner, maybe a week after the ROTC sends her form - call them and check on it, and then either email or fax a request for an absentee ballot.
Under “voter info” on govoteTN.com, there is a selection called “absentee voting,” and under #3, it says “process for requesting a ballot by mail.” She has to print out the letter or form that has this info, sign it, scan it, re-scan and email it to her county or fax it.
So there is a loophole. It’s complicated, and requires a visit to your campus ROTC office, a phone call to the county election office after they’ve received your form and had time to process it, and an email/fax request for an absentee ballot. And a printer and scanner and/or fax machine. Your computer’s library probably has a printer and scanner, and most smartphones have a scanner app (on my iPhone I use JotNot). You can also send faxes digitally - google “send faxes digitally” to find a site. But! There is a way to vote.
I know it’s a lot of effort. But voting is your right and your duty as a citizen. If there is any way you can vote, you should do it.
So the bottom line is that if you’re a college student, Tennessee doesn’t want you to vote. Because you will probably vote for President Obama. And you hopefully will vote for Martin Pleasant for Senate.