Re Registering to Vote After Moving Out of State

by Jo McKeegan // Published October 4, 2010

Recently, I moved from New York to Virginia. I had been a New York resident my entire life, remaining a New York voter even when I lived in Pennsylvania during college,  I intended to remain a New York voter until the most recent election cycle was over; having moved to Virginia less than a month ago, I knew very little about most of the candidates here.

A practical question arose this afternoon: how long after you move should you change your voter registration? Obviously, a voter should be registered where s/he actually lives and gets mail, but when should the voter make the switch? Can you wait a week? A month? A year?

The answered turned out to be a bracing one. According to www.eac.gov, “Most states allow a 60-day grace period for you to be able to vote using your old address.” The governing law is the law of the state you moved away from. This means for me, I am beholden to New York law.

Not finding the information I wanted online, I called my former-local Board of Elections, where I had registered as a teenager and always requested my absentee ballots.  Under state law, I was told, you don’t get a 60 day grace period. I had moved, and now I have no choice but to register as a Virginia voter for this election. 

Of course, this mandate does not apply to college students and other people who are in a transitional period in their lives, who are allowed to continue to be a registered voter at their permanent address, most likely their parent’s address.

But now that I am no longer a student, I’m not in that category. With the elections only about a month away, this means that people who have moved recently may need to print out and mailing in their new voter registration forms this weekend.  Many states require a voter to register four weeks before an election to vote. With a November 2nd election this year that means the deadline in those states is just a few days away.  For me, Virginia requires a voter to register 21 days prior to an election, so I can get my registration by October 12.  

The registration problem would, of course, be alleviated altogether if there existed Election Day registration (EDR) system in place.  If EDR was available, anyone who had moved immediately prior to an election would be able to arrive at their local precinct and register to vote in their new home.  Without it, voters can be left in limbo between two states, unable to voter in their old home but missing an early deadline to vote in their new home. 

We also might have more automatic registration procedures in place. I’ve done various things since coming to Virginia that could have triggered an update to my voter registration - -or at least a mailing alerting me to the need to update registration.

But in lieu such reforms, we must subscribe to the as they are.  If you have moved recently, don’t forget to re-register to vote as soon as possible. Registration forms are available in many places, including post offices and online at your state’s Board of Elections website.  Find out more at this helpful Election Assistance Commission website: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/ive_moved_recently_can_i_still_vote.aspx