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When sophomore Preeyanka Rao moved to Chapel Hill from New Jersey, she immediately changed her voter registration.

“My area has implemented policies that I agree with by large majority, and that isn’t necessarily true of Orange County or the state,” she said.

Midterm election season is coming up, and that means out-of-state students will have to decide how they want to vote — which can be a difficult and complicated process.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1979 during Symm v. United States allows students to use their residential school address when registering to vote even if it isn’t their permanent address. Despite this ruling, out-of-state students might still be unsure of the best voting method for them.

Out-of-state students who plan to vote in an election while at UNC face a decision: update their registration to their school’s location or use an absentee ballot from their home state.

Students who transfer their registration to their Chapel Hill address often do so because they feel their vote will have more of an impact in North Carolina than it does in their home state.

Sophomore Owen Stoneking hasn’t yet registered, but he intends to using his Orange County address. Stoneking said that his home state, Illinois, will likely vote Democratic, so he decided he would make more of a difference with his vote in North Carolina.

“Here is a lot closer to a swing state, so my vote will potentially matter more,” he said.

Other students, like sophomore Gabrielle Zuckerman from Florida, feel their vote matters more in their home state than in Orange County and choose to use absentee ballots.

“This year Florida has really important seats open — governor, senator and representative," she said. "So I decided to vote absentee for my district."

Some students choose to use absentee ballots for other reasons.

“I will most likely do absentee voting in my home state,” said Cherish Miller, a sophomore from Kentucky. “Mostly because my family lives there and I have family members running in the county elections.”

Miller said she thinks she can make a better-educated decision in the Kentucky elections because she’s more familiar with the candidates there.

But some students have turned their attention to North Carolina politics upon choosing to go to UNC.

Rao said she has educated herself about the representatives on the ballot in North Carolina for the upcoming election to make a well-informed decision. She plans to vote because the issues facing UNC students this election year, she said, are particularly important.

Austin Hahn, a senior from Pennsylvania who presides over the UNC Young Democrats, has voted both absentee and in Orange County during his time as a student. 

“I vote here because I'm more involved here than I am at home,” he said. “In 2016, I worked on campaigns in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina and was very fired up about the Senate race in Pennsylvania, so I wanted to vote in that. Now that I'm purely working in North Carolina, that is where I vote.”

Out-of-state students who don’t vote absentee have to change their registration every year they move addresses. Rao moved dorms her sophomore year and is soon sending in the new registration. 

“As long as I’m a resident of North Carolina for the majority of the year, in undergraduate or even graduate school, I plan to remain registered for North Carolina,” she said.


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