What type of voting sites are possible?

The two most common types of voting locations are early voting sites, which are open prior to Election Day, and polling places, which are only open on Election Day. Additionally, a small but growing trend is to conduct all-mail elections, meaning elections offices mail out ballots to every voter automatically. If you are in a jurisdiction that conducts elections primarily through these vote-by-mail ballots, you still may have options for your campus too!  You could request a ballot drop box for your campus or even a vote center for those needing assistance or wishing to return their mail ballot in-person. What follows is a general guide to different types of voting sites, but remember to find out the exact details for your jurisdiction. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a helpful website that gives a quick overview on which states use which voting methods.  

Early Voting Sites

Most states now offer some form of in-person voting in the weeks or days leading up to an election. It is most often referred to as early voting, and in some states, called absentee in-person voting. Absentee in-person voting generally follows the same state rules for requesting an absentee ballot through the mail but allows the voter to fill out the absentee ballot request in-person, submit it, and cast a ballot in one trip - similar to an early voting site. 

Early voting sites usually serve all voters in a jurisdiction, meaning any voter in the county or city where the early voting site is located can go there to cast a ballot. Due to the wider number of voters served by early voting sites, this can be a great option for campuses with a substantial number of commuters, a campus that is divided into multiple precincts, or any institution with a student population spread across a larger geographic area. 

Election Day Polling Places 

Most Election Day voting involves voters from a single precinct traveling to their assigned polling place. Sometimes multiple precincts may vote at one location with separate lines or another system to make sure voters from different precincts get the right ballot.  On-campus polling places are a good option for institutions with on-campus student residents or other compact student housing situations, as most precincts only contain a few hundred to a few thousand voters.  

Vote Centers 

Vote centers are similar to early voting sites in that they serve all voters within that jurisdiction. Like early voting sites, vote centers can open ahead of Election Day. However, they may stay open up through and on Election Day. If this is an option in your jurisdiction, it is the best option for any type of campus as it can serve the most voters over the longest amount of time. 

Ballot Drop Boxes

An increasing number of jurisdictions allowed the use of drop boxes during the 2020 elections. Elections officials set up secure boxes across the city/county for voters to return their vote-by-mail ballots. The local elections office follows very specific guidelines to securely retrieve the ballots from each box. A mail ballot drop box would be a great option for any campus that falls within a jurisdiction that conducts all-mail elections or has a student population spread across a larger area.