While U.S. permanent residents enjoy many of the same rights as citizens, voting is not one of them. Green card holders are not permitted to vote in federal elections and are generally exempt from local and state elections as well.
Beyond simply not being allowed to vote, permanent residents face serious jail time and even deportation for registering to vote. Registering to vote as a permanent resident is considered fraud—impersonating a U.S. citizen. A Texas permanent resident was sentenced to eight years in prison, and likely deportation afterwards, for voting in elections in 2012 and 2014.
However, it wasn’t always this way. In the 19th and early 20th century, as many as 40 states and U.S. territories allowed non-citizens to vote in state and sometimes federal elections. Arkansas was the last state to allow non-citizen voting, ending the practice in 1926. Since then, voting has been a right nearly universally reserved for citizens.
How Can a Permanent Resident Gain the Right to Vote?
In order to vote, you must become a U.S. citizen. In most cases, the path to citizenship for permanent residents is naturalization. Naturalization is an extensive and expensive process. In order to be eligible you must:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be a permanent resident for at least 5 years (3 if married to a U.S. citizen)
- Have been physically present in the U.S. at least 30 months in the last 5 years
- Be able to read, write & speak basic English
- Be a person of good moral character
The application for naturalization is Form N-400. The application itself is long, complex and includes a fee of $725. Before you file, it’s a good idea to consider getting help with your application.
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