There are a number of laws at different levels that deal with non-citizens voting. To answer whether illegal immigrants can vote, you need to layer all of the laws.
- The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act prevents non-citizens from voting in federal elections
- No federal laws prohibit non-citizens from voting in local or state elections
- Most states have laws preventing non-citizens from voting in state or local elections
Therefore, a non-citizen should examine the local, state, and federal laws to determine if they can vote in an election.
How Can a Non-Citizen Vote?
There are two ways that a non-citizen can obtain the right to vote in the US. These are not simple ways, but they can be done if a non-citizen wants voting rights.
Naturalization or applying for permanent citizenship will guarantee a non-citizen the right to vote in all US elections. There are a number of eligibility requirements, like living in the US legally for at least five years before applying for naturalization.
Permanent residency or a green card will allow non-citizens to vote in some local or state elections, depending on the laws of the area. For example, Chicago and San Francisco allow green card holders to vote in local council elections. But some states and cities do not allow them to vote in local elections. Green card holders cannot vote in federal elections.
Undocumented or illegal immigrants are not allowed to vote in the US at all.
Determining If You Can Vote
Determining eligibility to vote can be confusing. For example, a 1995 federal law affectionately nicknamed the Motor Voter law requires DMV clerks to give you voter registration documents when you apply for an ID card or driver’s license. This does not automatically mean you are eligible to vote, though, as they will hand those forms out to non-citizens too. In some states, they have added amendments to allow DMV clerks to ask about your citizenship status before giving out forms.
Many advocates believe that non-citizens should be allowed to vote in elections if they pay taxes and work. They believe it is immoral to tax people without providing them with representation.
Preventing Voter Fraud
Most of the regulations surrounding non-citizens and voting are made to prevent voter fraud. However, some non-citizens are still registered to vote even though they are ineligible to vote. In fact, in 2011, Florida uncovered hundreds of non-citizens who had voted in previous elections. Many states have severe penalties for illegal voting, even for permanent residents. California passed a law in 2016 to remove penalties for non-citizens who were registered to vote by DMV staff who failed to check the voting eligibility.
Can Non-Citizens Vote in Other Countries?
Even as early as the 1960s, some countries gave non-citizens basic voting rights. Today, non-citizens are allowed some degree of voting rights in at least 45 countries. These are often granted because of affiliations between certain nations, like EU citizens being allowed some level of voting rights if they live in other EU nations.
Can Non-Citizens Vote in Local Elections
Some cities allow non-citizens to vote in local elections as long as they are legal residents. There may be other criteria attached to the right to vote. For example, San Francisco gives non-citizens the right to vote in elections for the school board if they are the parent or legal caregiver of a child in the school.
11 local governments in the US have provisions to allow non-citizens some voting rights. 10 of these are in Maryland.
8 states have attempted to relax the laws and provide non-citizens with voting rights, often multiple times. However, they have been unsuccessful.