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Currently, there are no states where it's legal for a non-citizen to vote in a federal election.

The question is whether all states' laws specify that proof of citizenship is require for voter registration. I would tend to assume that in each state, the law would require that in order to register to vote in a federal election,

  • the person must present an official document that is proof of citizenship, such as a US birth certificate or US passport, at the time of registration, or
  • the person's citizenship status must be verified by looking it up in some database that required proof of citizenship. (For example, the Social Security Administration keeps a record of whether a person is a citizen, and this requires proof of citizenship to be presented to the SSA office.) Or,
  • in cases where the above two conditions are not satisfied, the person will receive a limited voter registration record that is only valid for state and local elections (in the case of states that allow non-citizens to vote in such elections), and such a person would only be able to obtain a limited ballot without any federal candidates on it (see https://law.stackexchange.com/a/46455/765).

Are there any states where such legal provisions to prevent non-citizen voting do not exist?

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  • "The question is how strictly this is enforced" is a law enforcement and bureaucratic administration question, not a question of law. Dec 14, 2020 at 17:03
  • @BlueDogRanch I'm not entirely sure that's correct. State law can and does impose procedural requirements on voter registration, and any relevant legally binding regulations promulgated by the executive branch of a state government are also a form of law.
    – Brian
    Dec 14, 2020 at 17:12
  • It may be a question of the law, but not in the context of this site, where questions about law enforcement are off topic. Dec 14, 2020 at 17:16
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    Does the voters sworn statement that he or she or they is a citizen constitute "proof"? Dec 14, 2020 at 20:29
  • 1
    I would just note that administrative hurdles of this kind tend to prevent more citizens from voting than non-citizens, which is why they tend to be avoided.
    – phoog
    Dec 15, 2020 at 15:02

3 Answers 3

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I would tend to assume that in each state, the law would require

Your assumption would be incorrect. In many states (probably most U.S. states), a representation of the person registering to vote that they are a U.S. citizen is sufficient to be validly registered to vote, and registered voters are allowed to vote without further verification of their citizenship.

Other information could be called upon to prove citizenship if the eligibility of the voter to vote based upon citizenship is formally disputed.

These seemingly lax requirements are quite effective.

In practice, the number of cases of non-citizens voting or registering to vote is infinitesimal. Specifically:

votes by non-citizens account for between 0.0003 percent and 0.001 percent of all votes cast [ed. i.e. 1 to 3 per million ballots cast].

The cases of non-citizens voting that do arise mostly involve good faith mistakes lawful permanent residents (i.e. green card holders) who are in the process of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. In these cases, the non-citizens who try to register to vote or vote misunderstood where they were administratively in the rather complicated red tape of the naturalization process, and become U.S. citizens shortly after registering to vote or voting.

Empirically, there are more conservative activists who vote illegally in federal elections, feeling justified in their cheating as a result of their misperception that voting by ineligible voters is widespread and wanting to counterbalance that, than there are non-citizens who vote illegally in federal election.

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  • This is the first I've heard of the claim about conservative activists. Can you add some details or a reference?
    – phoog
    Sep 20, 2023 at 5:52
  • @phoog I'll find some references if I have time. I monitor these cases fairly closely but don't always keep links to the reports in an organized fashion.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 20, 2023 at 14:51
  • Do you have any references to back up your answer? I am not saying that I don't believe you, but I am curious whether for at least 1 state, we have any actual proof that they do not e.g. check the individual's social security record to determine whether or not they have US citizenship. For example, has a state official stated that they do not perform any verification of a person's self-identification as a US citizen?
    – Brian
    Oct 4, 2023 at 23:22
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    @Brian I know this first hand from personal experience and working in the weeds of the voting process as a political party official in the jurisdictions of Ohio, Michigan, New York State, and Colorado. I have second hand knowledge of many other states from reading media reports, from secondary source descriptions of election law lawsuits, and from election law blogs (such as the blog of Rick Hansen who is the leading law professor in the field electionlawblog.org ). I am also a former professional journalist who used to cover elections and election disputes.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 4, 2023 at 23:27
  • My main media sources were radio news from National Public Radio and from the Washington Post newspaper, although these would not be the only media sources.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 4, 2023 at 23:33
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In every state where I have registered to vote, I have never been required to provide proof of citizenship. Instead and most recently, I checked a box and signed a sworn statement that I am a US citizen, when I got my driver's license. State law mandates that the information be compiled into a database which is designed to "Screen against any available databases maintained by other government agencies to identify voters who are ineligible to vote due to a felony conviction, lack of citizenship, or mental incompetence". A registrant can register and then vote the same day. The Sec'y of State does not explain (at all) what citizenship-verification process is followed, so in lieu of insider information, it may be possible to access passport information online. Since possession of a passport is not a requirement for voting, negative passport results cannot preclude voter registration. The Social Security database is a more likely, but still non-definitive database for citizenship. It is possible to register to vote without a social security number (by providing a state ID number or driver's license), and even those forms of ID are not required for an initial registration (a person can be provisionally registered, meaning they can vote for two federal elections – however, their ballot cannot be counted until a state or federal ID number is provided). Whether or not the data provided in the Supplemental Security Record is correct, or is actually accessed by the Washington SOS is not clear. The SOS implies that data may be checked, but there is no provision mandating re-verification, and the law that created a verification framework were enacted in 2006 so at most this will catch new non-citizen registrations.

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Here is evidence that you do NOT need to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote in almost every state: You are allowed to use the federal mail voter registration form, instead of the state's own form, to register to vote in almost every state. (The exceptions are that New Hampshire and Wisconsin treat this form as a request for their own voter registration form, North Dakota does not have voter registration, and Wyoming does not permit mail registration.)

This form has state-specific instructions for each state. But none of those instructions say that proof of citizenship is required. The form merely requires the person to "swear/affirm" that they are a US citizen and meets the other eligibility requirements.

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