Tennessee Student Voting Guide
In 2015 the Fair Elections Legal Network and Nashville law firm, Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s voter ID law as violating the voting rights of Tennessee students. The state’s voter ID law allows voters to use public college and university faculty and employee ID cards but not student ID cards issued by the same institutions. Visit our page on the case for updates and on the suit as well as other resources.

Registration Deadline

Voter Registration Deadline: 30 days before Election Day

Voter registration forms, polling place locations, and more information can be found at www.tn.gov/sos/election/voterInfo.htm

What Type of ID Do I Need to Register?

Tennessee’s voter registration form asks for your full 9-digit Social Security Number. If you are registering to vote for the first time in Tennessee and you submit the registration form by mail (not in person at the clerk’s office), you will need to submit a copy of one of the following forms of ID with your registration form or present the physical ID at the polls. This requirement for first-time mail-in registrants is separate from Tennessee’s photo voter ID law. Some forms of ID may satisfy both requirements, like a current Tennessee driver’s license, but note an expired photo ID will NOT satisfy the first-time mail-in registrant requirement. Acceptable forms of ID for first-time mail-in registrants include:

  1. a current photo identification with the voter’s name and photo (with or without an address); or
  2. a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the voter’s name and address.

Contact your county election commission if you have questions about whether your specific photo ID or document with a name and address fits within these accepted categories of identification.

Register at School or Home?

Students have a choice about where to register to vote.

School address:

  • Students attending college in Tennessee may register at their school address. You must plan to return after temporary absences, like summer break, but do not have to plan to reside at that address permanently.

Permanent address:

  • Students may choose to register or remain registered at a permanent address in Tennessee or outside the state. In this case, students may need to vote by absentee ballot.

You may only be registered and vote in one location.

What Type of ID Do I Need to Vote?

Voters must show a government-issued photo ID when voting in person at the polls either early or on Election Day. Absentee voters do NOT have to provide a copy of their photo ID. If this is your first time voting since registering in Tennessee, you must vote in person. Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • Current or expired Tennessee driver license with a photo;
  • Current or expired U.S. passport;
  • Current or expired free photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security;
  • Current or expired photo ID issued by the federal or Tennessee state government;
  • Current or expired employee ID cards issued by the federal or Tennessee state government, including retired state government employee photo ID cards and IDs issued by public universities to faculty and employees;
  • Current or expired U.S. military photo ID; or
  • Current or expired Tennessee gun permit card with a photo.

Student IDs, even those from public colleges, are NOT acceptable forms of ID.   If you do not have a qualifying photo ID, you will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. But you will then have to provide a qualifying photo ID to election officials within 2 business days for your vote to be counted.

Where Do I Vote?

Make a plan. Look up your polling location and hours at: tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup/


How Can I Vote?

By Mail

  • Students may vote an absentee ballot by mail in Tennessee only if they register to vote in person or have voted before in Tennessee. Additionally, you must be attending school outside of your county of registration or have another reason for being outside of your county of registration during the early voting period and Election Day to be eligible to vote absentee by mail.
  • Applications for absentee ballots must be received by mail or fax by your county election commission office by 7 days before Election Day.
  • Completed ballots must be received by mail by your county election commission by the closing of the polls on Election Day.

Early In Person Early in person voting is usually available starting 20 days before an election and ends 5 days before an election. On Election Day at the Polls The polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Will voting in Tennessee affect my federal financial aid?

Where you register to vote will not affect federal financial aid such as Pell Grants and Perkins or Stafford loans or your dependency status regarding FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). 

Does being an out-of-state student for tuition purposes affect my right to vote in my college community?

No. You may choose to vote in your college community or back home regardless of your tuition status.

Will I lose my scholarship if I register to vote in Tennessee?

Generally, no. If you receive scholarship money from a state, county, town, or a private entity (i.e., an entity other than the federal government) you should confirm that residency in a particular place is not a requirement of the scholarship and/or that voter registration in Tennessee will not affect your eligibility. 

Will registering to vote in Tennessee affect my driver’s license or car registration?

Yes, out-of-state students that qualify as registered voters in the state are residents for the purposes of driver’s license laws. Drivers will be required to get a Tennessee driver’s license within 30 days of establishing residency. For more information, you may wish to contact the Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles.

Will registering to vote in Tennessee prevent my parents from claiming me as a dependent on their taxes?

No. Students are often told that registering to vote in a different state from their parents will make them lose their dependency status. This is not true. Where you register to vote will have no effect on your parent’s tax status. 
This Guide was prepared by FELN staff who are not licensed to practice law in Tennessee and FELN intends that the information contained herein is used only as a general guide. This document should not be used as a substitute for consultation with a licensed Tennessee legal professional.

Last updated June 2016