Do You Have to Be a Citizen to Vote in 2024?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Voting rights in the United States are granted to citizens who meet specific criteria.
  • To vote, individuals must be US citizens, at least 18 years old, possess a valid ID card, and fulfill state residency requirements.
  • Non-citizens, individuals in jail or under Department of Corrections scrutiny, and those disqualified by a court generally cannot vote.
  • Immigrants who have gone through naturalization and become US citizens can vote at all levels, while non-citizens may be allowed to vote in some state and local-level elections.

The US voting season is watched closely all over the world. This betokens the importance of US elections. The event is more important for the people of the United States – the Americans who cast their vote and elect their leaders. But who can and cannot vote in the United States? Can only citizens cast their vote? In this article, we’ll explain voting eligibility and requirements in the United States.

Who Can Vote In The US?

The US is a democracy (and a republic) where people hold power to choose their president and political representatives. That means Americans define their country by voting for their preferred leaders. Elections in the United States are managed by the Department of State, and they get to define who can and cannot vote.

You should know that the US hosts elections at three different levels. Those are federal, state, and local. To vote in the elections, you need to meet at least the following requirements:

  • Must be a US citizen at the time of casting a vote in the elections
  • Must be at least 18 years of age at the time of casting your vote
  • Must be in possession of a valid ID card
  • Must meet all state’s residency requirements

As opposed to above, you will not be able to cast your vote if:

  • You’re in jail
  • You’re under scrutiny from the Department of Corrections (DOC)
  • The state or federal court has disqualified you for some reason

So if you satisfy all of the above criteria, then you’ll be eligible to cast your vote. If you’re a US citizen, either through birth or naturalized, then you can vote at all levels. But things are more complex for immigrants.

Can Immigrants Vote in the US?

United States laws state that all natural-born citizens and those who have gone through the naturalization process are allowed to vote. By this statement, only those immigrants are allowed to vote who got naturalized and hold American citizenship. To become a naturalized citizen, an immigrant must have lived for at least five years in the States legally. The Oath of Allegiance is the final step for naturalization.

Other immigrants, unfortunately, are not allowed to cast their votes in federal elections. But some states might allow them to vote at state and local-level elections. For example, San Francisco allows certain non-citizens to vote at local elections.

Voter Fraud Concerns

 One of the main reasons that non-citizens aren’t allowed to vote has to do with voter frauds that have taken place over the years. The efforts to curb voting fraud have been underway since 2000. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, gave birth to the Read ID Act.

Voters are asked to carry ID documents to the election booth. But since most immigrants lack the necessary ID documents, it makes it harder for officials to keep track of them, Debates on how to solve this problem has been going on since decades and beyond.

If immigrants are found guilty of voting frauds, then they’ll face criminal charges. In the worst cases, they will be deported after serving jail time.

Even though voter fraud is rare and only exists in certain states, it can have detrimental consequences. Therefore, till the time the lawmakers find a better way to identify immigrant voters, they might be excluded from the voting list.

Which Immigrants Can Vote In The US?

As mentioned earlier, only those immigrants can cast their vote who eventually become a US citizen by going through the naturalization process. More than 600,000 people get naturalized each year and become American citizens. Only they, of all the types of immigrants, can cast their vote at federal, state, and local elections. For the 2020 elections, a total of 23 million naturalized citizens will become eligible to vote.

When talking of immigrants, even the Permanent Residents who hold green cards and DACA recipients are not allowed to vote except in some states like San Francisco and Chicago. This might seem contrary to the fact that they’re allowed to live and work in the United States and pay their taxes.

What Are The Requirements To Vote As An Immigrant In The US?

Once you become naturalized, you become an American citizen. So you need to satisfy the same requirements that an average US citizen is supposed to satisfy. Furthermore, each state will have different voting requirements. So you’re required to check with your own state.

But the common procedure is you’re required to register to vote. Once registered, you’ll be assigned to a voting location where you can go and cast your vote. North Dakota is an exception to this and doesn’t require individuals to register. The registration process and deadlines too vary from state to state.

If you think you’ll remain unavailable for the voting date, you can take the help of absentee ballots and vote ahead of time.

Voting in Local Elections

The most relaxation non-citizens can receive at local elections. Multiple states have been pushing their efforts to provide voting rights to non-citizens.

For example, NYC introduced a bill this year to expand voting rights to a certain group of immigrants. The immigrants must have stayed in the State for at least 30 days and have gone through multiple municipal voter registrations.

Similarly, College Park in Maryland enfranchised noncitizens and allowed them to vote locally. Ten other local governments also allow these benefits.

But voting in federal elections is still a far-fetched dream for non-citizens.

The ongoing debate on whether non-citizens can cast their vote can change the American voting landscape. Those in favor argue that anyone who works, pays taxes, and contributes to the economy should be eligible to vote. But ID documents and voting frauds remain a big obstacle.

Read More

Conclusion

As a non-citizen, if you’re confused about whether you can participate in any voting election or not, it is better to get in touch with an experienced attorney. Because otherwise, you can get involved in voting fraud, which would be the last thing you’d want.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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