Voting violations may result in denial of naturalization and deportation


In the United States, the right to vote is a fundamental aspect of citizenship, reserved for those who are U.S. citizens. However, the issue of non-citizen voting has sparked debates and discussions, particularly in local elections in some jurisdictions. While some states and localities have explored allowing non-citizens to vote in certain elections, such as school board or municipal elections, federal elections are strictly reserved for U.S. citizens.

Who Can Vote in the U.S.?

According to federal law, only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote in federal elections, including presidential, congressional, and senatorial elections. Furthermore, individual states may have additional requirements for voting in state and local elections, but these typically also mandate U.S. citizenship. Many states also require voters to be residents of the state in which they intend to vote.

Illegal Voting and Green Card Eligibility

The act of registering to vote as a non-citizen, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can have serious consequences, particularly for individuals seeking to obtain a green card (permanent resident status) in the United States.  For example, INA Section 212(a)(10)(D) provides that any non-citizen who has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation is inadmissible.  In other words, the person would not be eligible for the U.S. green card.

Furthermore, those who have been admitted into the U.S. can be deported if they have voted illegally, under INA Section 237(a)(6).  This provision states that an individual who, at any time after admission to the United States, has voted in violation of any federal, state, or local law or regulation is removable from the U.S.  It is important to note that the act of illegal voting must have occurred on or after September 30, 1996, when the relevant law was passed. 

Voting Violations May Result in Denial of Naturalization

Immigration law requires an applicant for naturalization must demonstrate "good moral character" for a specific period (usually five years) prior to filing the application and up until the applicant takes the oath of citizenship. 

A person who falsely represents themselves as a U.S. citizen for any purpose or benefit under the INA or any other federal or state law is deemed to lack good moral character.  Similarly, a non-citizens who illegally registers to vote or votes in a Federal, State, or local election may also be found to lack good moral character.  These individuals are not eligible for naturalization.  

In fact, a person who knowingly makes any false statement or claim that he is a citizen of the United States in order to register to vote or to vote in any Federal, State, or local election is subject to fines and imprisonment of up to five years, pursuant to 18 USC §1015.

What Should I do If I Mistakenly Registered to Vote?

Unfortunately, many individuals are encouraged to register to vote at the same time when they apply for their state driver's licenses or ID cards. New immigrants or those with limited English proficiency may just follow instructions to register to vote, not knowing that they are not eligible to register or to vote. They may have mistakenly checked yes to the question asking whether they are a U.S. citizen. Worse, some of them may have actually voted in Federal or State elections.

What further complicates the situation is that, applicants typically don't even know they have violated the laws until the time when they apply for naturalization. The naturalization application (N-400) specifically has questions on this issue, and the applicant must also testify under oath whether they have registered to vote or voted in U.S. elections.

In these situations, if the voter registration was unintentional, the applicant should try to contact the State DMV or election office to cancel the registration, and to gather evidence showing it was a mistake. Evidence might include written statements or affidavits from officials confirming the error. This is not usually easy to achieve, especially if the registration took place a long time ago.

One should not hesitate to seek advice from legal counsel in this situation. A false claim to U.S. citizenship not only results in denial of naturalization, but may also lead to deportation. Consulting with an immigration attorney is crucial, before you file an application for green card or naturalization, to navigate the complexities of the case and present a strong defense during the naturalization process.


Registering to vote as a non-citizen is a serious issue that can lead to ineligibility for U.S. green card and citizenship. Addressing the issue promptly, gathering evidence of the mistake, and seeking legal guidance are essential steps to mitigate the consequences.

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit to schedule a legal consultation.)  


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