Can You Vote If You Have a Green Card, or Are a U.S. Citizen Abroad?

Can you vote if you have a green card: man standing and voting

About 13.1 million people living in the U.S. are green card holders (also known as legal permanent residents). As a green card holder, you’re able to work and live in the United States, and you’re also protected under U.S., state, and local laws. But can you vote if you have a green card?

In general, non-citizens—including legal permanent residents—can’t vote in federal, state, or local elections, according to U.S. law. However, in some local municipalities, green card holders can vote.

Let’s take a closer look at U.S. voting laws.

Can you vote if you have a green card?

Can you vote if you have a green card: volunteer instructing a voter

Unless you are a United States citizen through birth or naturalization, you do not have the right to vote in primary or general federal elections, including presidential elections. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires that anyone seeking to register to vote must present valid identification (such as a driver’s license) and verify that they are a born or naturalized citizen.

In general, non-U.S. citizens—like legal permanent residents (green card holders)—are also unable to vote in state elections and local elections.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a green card holder has the following responsibilities:

  • To obey all laws
  • To file income tax returns
  • To register with the Selective Service if you’re a male between the ages of 18 and 25
  • To support the democratic form of government

However, USCIS notes that supporting democracy does not include the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections.

Are there any exceptions?

Depending on where you live, there are some cities where legal permanent residents may be permitted to vote in certain elections.

For example, in November of 2016, San Francisco passed Proposition N, a charter amendment that allows non-citizens to vote in elections for the Board of Education. The requirements to vote in this type of election are:

  • The voter must be 18 years of age or older.
  • The voter must be the parent, legal guardian or caretaker of a child that is 18 years old or younger.
  • The voter’s child must be a student in the San Francisco Unified School District.

This is just one example. Other cities in the United States have also passed laws opening up voting for school boards or other local elections to non-citizens, including the city of Chicago and towns in Maryland, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

You can check with your local government to see if green card holders can vote in certain elections.

An overview of U.S. voting laws

Trial in a court

Voting is a right granted to U.S. citizens by the United States Constitution. Since it is a right, voting is voluntary—meaning it’s not required. However, there are rules regarding who can and can’t vote.

To be eligible to be vote, a person will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen: This includes those born in the U.S. and those who are naturalized citizens. You may need to provide a form of identification when you register.
  • Be of legal voting age: The legal voting age in the United States is 18. A person must be 18 years old on or before election day. (In some municipalities, a person can begin voting in local elections at the age of 16.)
  • Meet your state’s residency qualifications: Check with your state to see if you meet the requirements.
  • Are registered to vote: You register to vote with your state. (North Dakota does not require registration.)

In addition to the above, a state may have additional rules for registration. For example, some states may limit the voting rights of people with felony convictions.

How to register to vote

If you meet your state’s residency requirements and want to become a registered voter, you’ll fill out a voter registration form for your state.

While each state has its own processes, you can usually get a form from your board of elections office, from a public library, or from the department of motor vehicles (DMV). The state of Illinois makes it easy to register to vote when you’re at the DMV to apply for or renew your driver’s license.

Your state may also allow you to fill out and submit an online voter registration form.

Each state will require different information when you register to vote. You may need to provide a driver’s license or state ID number, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or other identifying information. You can check with your state elections office to find out what information you’ll need to register.

Voting abroad as a U.S. citizen

Person holding an Official Election Mail

If you are a lawful permanent resident, perhaps you want to take the step of becoming a fully naturalized American citizen. Once you have United States citizenship, you’ll be able to vote in all U.S. elections. Even if you later spend time outside of the United States, you can still participate in mail-in voting.

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, also known as the UOCAVA, was enacted by Congress in 1986. This law was passed specifically to support several groups of American citizens:

  • Members of the United States Uniformed Services and merchant marines
  • Family members of the United States Uniformed Services and merchant marines
  • Any citizen of the United States residing overseas or outside of the U.S.

If you are an American expatriate living abroad in another country and you are 18 years or older, in most cases you are still eligible to cast a vote via absentee ballot for federal office candidates in the United States primary and general elections. Local and state elections are a different story, as the laws vary between states.

To qualify to vote abroad, the United States citizen must fill out a Federal Post Card Application, and once their eligibility is confirmed, they will receive an absentee ballot by mail. The requirements to be eligible to vote in the United States include:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older.
  • You must be a United States citizen at the time of voter registration.
  • You can’t have any felony convictions.

A new Federal Post Card Application must be submitted every year, and it must be received at least 45 days before an election. If the voter has applied to receive an absentee ballot but has not received the ballot by Election Day, they may use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is available online.

Though the U.S. Department of State has a lot of resources about voting from abroad, the state where you will be casting your ballot will be in charge of the actual procedures for casting a ballot.

Voting is a keystone of democracy and every vote matters. Whether you are an immigrant who’s moved to the U.S. or a U.S. citizen living abroad, you need to know your rights and obligations pertaining to voting.

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