Originally Published May 06, 2020
Unfortunately, green card holders cannot legally vote in federal elections. But they may do so in state and local elections as long as the local laws allow non-citizens to vote.
You need to remember that a green card is just proof that you are a permanent resident. It does not make you a US citizen. Rather, it’s a step towards obtaining citizenship. And the constitution clearly states that only citizens are allowed to vote in federal elections.
RIGHTS OF GREEN CARD HOLDERS
Even if they are not allowed to vote, green card holders share many rights with citizens. Most of them are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights which applies to every person, regardless of citizenship. These rights include:
- freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition
- right to bear arms
- protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
- right to due process of law
- protection against self-incrimination and jeopardy
- right to counsel, speedy and public trial and trial by jury (in civil cases)
- protection from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments
- other rights
Some rights are also exclusive for green card holders. These include the right to:
- live permanently in the US as long as you do not commit anything that makes you eligible for deportation under immigration laws
- work legally in any job of your choosing (unless prohibited by law)
- be protected by all laws of the country, your state of residence and local jurisdictions
CAN GREEN CARD HOLDERS RUN FOR PUBLIC OFFICE?
The right to run for public office usually comes with the right to vote. As such, green card holders cannot run for public office in federal elections. Some states, however, allow green card holders to hold public office.
STATES THAT ALLOW GREEN CARD HOLDERS TO VOTE
Over the years, there had been many attempts to give non-citizens the right to vote in state elections. But none of them have yet succeeded.
However, there are states that allow permanent residents to vote in municipal and special district elections.
In Connecticut, Delaware, and New Mexico, non-citizens can vote in municipal or town elections. Voting in special district elections is also open to non-citizens in the states of:
Note that rules vary for each state and are usually on a case-to-case basis. So it’s best to consult with your local elections board for a more detailed assessment.
CAN VOTING IN AN ELECTION AS A GREEN CARD HOLDER SEND YOU TO PRISON?
Voting in an election as a non-citizen is a punishable offense. But not always.
Remember that some states allow non-citizens to vote in certain local elections. As such, it’s perfectly legal for them to exercise their right to suffrage in such events.
But a green card holder who votes in a federal election may face fines, imprisonment of not more than one year, and deportation. They can also be permanently banned from entering the US.
The federal law on voting by aliens states that:
It shall be unlawful for any alien to vote in any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing a candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner. (18 U.S. Code § 611)
An exception to this rule is if the voter:
- has natural or adoptive parents who are or were both citizens;
- is permanently residing in the US before the age of 16;
- reasonably believes that he or she was a US citizen at the time of voting
In 2015, the state of California also passed a law that automatically registers all citizen resident holders of driver’s license as a registered voter for all California ballots.
But there were concerns that some undocumented immigrants may have been included in the list. So the state passed California Bill No. 1461. Under this law, non-citizens who represented themselves truthfully at the DMV but were incorrectly registered as a voter cannot be held liable. Instead, the blame shall be on the DMV personnel for failing to verify their citizenship documents.
All opinions stated herein do not constitute legal advice. Please contact your lawyers for further questions and clarification.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.