Are Noncitizens Allowed to Vote in U.S. Elections?
In the United States, federal regulations strictly prohibit noncitizens from participating in federal elections. This includes voting for positions such as the President, Vice President, and members of Congress.
Enacted in 1996, the law clearly outlines severe consequences for noncitizens who engage in illegal voting. Penalties include fines, imprisonment, or both. Additionally, noncitizens found guilty of voting may face deportation.
During voter registration, individuals in the U.S. are required to affirm their U.S. citizenship status under the threat of perjury. To further ensure compliance, several states cross-check voter registrations with federal and state databases.
Despite some public figures and commentators expressing concerns over illegal voting by noncitizens, research indicates that such incidents are extremely rare. Ron Hayduk, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University who specializes in noncitizen voting laws, emphasizes that instances of noncitizens registering or voting are exceedingly uncommon.
A study by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2017, examining 42 jurisdictions during the 2016 election, found only about 30 cases of potential noncitizen voting out of 23.5 million votes, which were then referred for further investigation or prosecution.
Further investigations, including a recent audit in Georgia, have not uncovered evidence of widespread noncitizen voting. The Georgia audit, which reviewed voter registrations over the past 25 years, identified fewer than 2,000 attempts by noncitizens to register, all of which were unsuccessful, amidst millions of new registrations.
While federal law bars noncitizens from voting in federal elections, it does not prevent states or local governments from allowing them to vote in local elections. A few places in the U.S., such as 11 towns in Maryland and two in Vermont, have granted voting rights to noncitizens in local races. New York City attempted to extend voting rights to legally documented noncitizens and “Dreamers” for mayoral and other local elections, but this initiative was halted by a court ruling in June.