Absentee or early voting: What you need to know

The U.S. general election Nov. 3 is coming up quickly, and for many students, especially for first-time voters, the process of registering and getting an absentee ballot can be confusing. Whether you are far from your home voting district and or have concerns about safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may wish to vote absentee. It actually doesn’t take long to register and apply with the right website addresses. Basically, there are four steps: register, apply to vote absentee, fill out the ballot and send it in. 

Find your state or local election office at usvotefoundation.org/vote/eoddomestic, and reference your Secretary of State’s website for extra information. Another tip, remember to keep a close eye on which address you register as ‘home’ and which the ballot will be sent to. Here’s how students from South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska can register to vote and get an absentee ballot.

South Dakota

If you are a South Dakota resident, you can register to vote if you are at least 18 years old on or before Nov. 3 and a U. S. citizen. It is also required to not be currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction and not to be judged mentally incompetent by a court of law. 

Find the registration form at the county auditor’s office or print a form from the South Dakota Secretary of State’s website to get started. Printed forms should be sent to the county auditor’s office. State law does not allow voters to submit the form by fax or email.

Once you’re registered, it’s time to fill out your absentee ballot application form. The state recommends you apply at least a week before the election. You have to fill out the form and verify your identity. For that, you should include a photocopy of an acceptable photo ID, like a driver’s license or passport. Alternatively, you can verify your identity by having the form notarized. To get something notarized, you can start with a search in the notary public commission records by county or city. Once filled out, you can submit it to the county auditor’s office, which is the same place you registered, or to the office of county election officials.

Once your ballot comes in the mail, you’re free to fill in those bubbles whenever you’re ready. The election official’s office must receive an absentee ballot with enough time left on election day to deliver the ballot to the voter’s precinct before the polls close. To be safe, it’s best to send your ballot in the mail early. The U.S. Postal Service recommends you send it before election day, at least a week before the deadline.

For more information visit the South Dakota Secretary of State’s website.

North Dakota

Students can vote absentee from North Dakota if they are U.S. citizens of at least 18 years old and residents of North Dakota whose legal address has been within the precinct from at least 30 days prior to Election Day, which is Oct. 3. You also need a valid form of identification like a driver’s license or passport.

North Dakota is the only state that does not require voter registration. That means, this process is a whole lot easier for you North Dakotans.

North Dakota residents who want to vote by absentee ballot can apply through the online Absentee Ballot Application Wizard or by contacting their county auditor’s office. Absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than Nov. 2.

For more information, visit the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website.


Students from Minnesota can register to vote if they are U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old on election day and residents of Minnesota for at least 20 days. Those with felony convictions must have finished all parts of their sentence.

Minnesota voters can register online through mnvotes.org. Make sure you have your driver’s license number, ID card number or the last four digits of your Social Security number available.

Minnesota students who want to vote early with an absentee ballot can apply online at the Secretary of State website. The ballot will show up in your mailbox quickly, so don’t forget to check your mailbox often. 

Once you’ve selected your candidates and sealed the envelope, send it off to the county auditor’s office. Ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received by the student’s county of residence by Nov. 10.

For more information, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.


Students can register to vote if they are Nebraska residents, U.S. citizens and turning 18 years old by Nov. 3. To be eligible, they must not have been found by a court to be mentally incompetent.

Nebraska voters can register online through the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website with their driver’s license or a state-issued ID Those without a driver’s license or Nebraska I.D. can also download, print and mail in a paper application.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for Nebraska has passed.

Early voting ballots must arrive at the county election Official’s office by the closing of the polls on election day. They can be delivered personally, by an agent or by mail. 

For more information, visit the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website.

Noah Wicks contributed to this story.

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