Can Green Card Holders Vote?

Posted by Frank Gogol

There are many overlaps between lawful permanent residence and being a U.S. citizen. Perhaps you came to the U.S. on a K-1 visa and have since adjusted your status from K-1 to a green card. In your day to day life, you probably won’t even notice the difference. You have the right to work, you can move in and out of the U.S. freely, and you can live anywhere you want. There are still a few important distinctions, though. One of them is your right to vote in U.S. elections. 

Can green card holders vote? If you do vote, are there any consequences? These are important questions to know the answers to. Let’s take a look! 

What is Voting? 

Voting is a system through which individuals have the privilege to make their voices heard and contribute to the political leadership of their state or country. For many Americans, voting is seen as a rite of passage and their most basic civic duty. 

Unfortunately, not everyone who resides in the U.S. can vote in the U.S. This is a privilege reserved for specific people. 

Who Can Vote in the U.S.?

U.S. citizens can vote in all elections – federal, state, and local. As a general rule, lawful permanent residents can’t vote in the U.S. unless you become a naturalized U.S. citizen. 

To be eligible to vote, you must also meet your state’s residency requirements and be at least 18 years old on election day. People who are mentally incapacitated and have felony convictions are generally ineligible to vote. The rules vary by state, however, so check with your state’s elections office what their specific rules are.

Before you can vote, you also have to be registered to vote.

Who Can Register to Vote?

Only those who are eligible to vote can register to vote. In most cases, this will be U.S. citizens. If you aren’t a U.S. citizen, then don’t register to vote. Simply registering to vote can get you into trouble. We’ll look at this in more detail below. 

Can Green Card Holders Vote?

Generally, the answer to this question is no. Only U.S. citizens can vote. There are a few exceptions, however, which we can look at in more detail.

Voting in State and Local Elections

Certain states allow lawful permanent residents to vote in state and local elections. For example, green card holders and immigrants with work visas will be granted the right to vote in mayoral and other elections in New York City under the bill introduced in the City Council in January 2020. This bill gives almost 1 million New York City residents who are taxpayers in the city (but aren’t citizens) the right to vote. 

If your state, therefore, allows green card holders to vote, you will, just like every other U.S. citizen over the age of 18, have the right to vote. But remember this is only in local and state elections that don’t require you to be a U.S. citizen. Make sure you know what your local rules are before registering. It may seem like a hassle, but it is well worth your while. You don’t want to get into unnecessary trouble and hinder your chances of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Voting in Federal Elections

Only U.S. citizens are allowed to vote in federal elections. There are no exceptions to this rule. Unfortunately, green card holders don’t have a say in who will be their next president.

What Happens if a Green Card Holder Votes in a Federal Election?

If you vote in a federal election, but you aren’t allowed to, you can be deported. In fact, even just registering to vote in federal elections as a lawful permanent resident is in itself a cause for deportation. This is serious stuff. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) doesn’t care whether you didn’t know you weren’t allowed to or even that the voting workers allowed you to vote. This won’t make a difference in your deportation. 

If you don’t get deported, then the fact that you disobeyed this rule can still mean you forfeit the chance to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization

Think of it this way. You might feel strongly about who should be the next U.S. president, but if you try to vote as a lawful permanent resident, you probably won’t be in the U.S. to see that president rise to leadership.

Green Card Voting FAQ

The rules are pretty clear, but you might not have been aware of them. What do you do if you find yourself having made this mistake? You might have even made it innocently. Is there any way you can correct the wrong? Let’s take a look.

I am not a citizen. I voted in the U.S. What can the USCIS do?

As we discussed above, the USCIS can deny your application for citizenship. In serious cases, they can also deport you. No one can say what steps the USCIS will take, but they can take either. 

I am not a U.S. citizen. I registered to vote. What should I do?

Unfortunately, even just registering to vote can get you into trouble. You can be denied citizenship and could even be deported just for registering. Fortunately, this mistake can be corrected. You should have your name removed from the registered voter list as soon as possible. You can do this by sending a letter to your County Auditor’s Office saying, “Please cancel my voter registration.”. 

Keep in mind there are situations where your name may appear on the voter registration list even if you didn’t actually intentionally register to vote. This can, for example, happen where the federal motor-voter law gives people who apply for their driver’s license a voter registration form. Or if you apply for public assistance, and you receive a voter registration form. You might have innocently completed the form, thinking it’s part of the application and not realizing the possible repercussions. Unfortunately, there isn’t a defense in place should this have happened innocently.

If you think you might have accidentally completed a voter registration form, go to the effort to see if your name appears on the voter registration list. If it does, have it removed immediately.

I am not a U.S. citizen. I voted in the U.S. What should I do?

If you voted in a U.S. election, but you aren’t a U.S. citizen, your best option is to see an immigration attorney. They’ll be able to give you the best advice on how to proceed. It is especially important to do this before applying for citizenship. You wouldn’t want there to be unnecessary obstacles to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. 

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Conclusion 

Whether you became a green card holder through EB-1 adjustment of status or through your PhD, there is no doubt electing the leader of your country is important to you. Having the right to vote is also a very big privilege. Unfortunately, this is one of the privileges reserved for U.S. citizens only. 

Now you know the answer to “can green card holders vote?”. Make sure you stick to the rules while you are just a green card holder and be patient. When you get the chance to become a U.S. citizen (and have the right to vote), you don’t want anything to be standing in your way.

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