Immigration and Voting: What You Need To Know

Updated: Oct 19



As the 2020 Presidential Election nears, voting, what it means to be eligible to vote and who can vote are meaningful conversations immigrant communities face.

Olufemi Adisa, Immigration Services Team Lead with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, sat with us to answer the most frequent questions asked about immigration and voting:

WHO CAN VOTE?

Generally, to vote in North Dakota, you have to be a U.S. Citizen. You have to be at least 18 years old. You also have to be a resident of North Dakota and a resident of the precinct you’re voting in for 30 days preceding the election.

You do not have to pre-register to vote, although some municipalities might have a slightly different requirement. If casting a vote for a local election, check the requirements with your local County office.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE AS AN IMMIGRANT?

As an immigrant, you may not vote unless the law in the jurisdiction permits. In North Dakota, you may not vote unless you are a U.S. Citizen.

Individuals need to check on their citizenship status prior to the election and voting because there may be individuals who aren’t aware that they’re eligible to vote – and there may also be individuals who think  they’re qualified to vote but can’t. An immigrant could be a citizen through naturalization or derive citizenship by operation of law. To become a citizen through naturalization, the immigrant must:

  • Be a Permanent Resident (Green Card) for at least five years, or at least three years if the individual is filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen,

  • Be at least 18 years of age when they apply,

  • Meet physical presence and continuous presence requirements.

  • can read, write and speak basic English, and

  • Be a person of good moral character.

Meeting these requirements only makes an immigrant eligible to apply. The immigrant would not become a citizen until the immigrant has passed a naturalization interview and has taken the Oath of Allegiance. To derive citizenship by Operation of Law, an immigrant child must meet specific requirements. The child must:

  • Have a U.S. citizen parent,

  • Be younger than 18,

  • Be in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent, and

  • Be a permanent resident of the United States. 

On the day these requirements are met, that child becomes a citizen without any additional effort. Ideally, the child would then apply for some proof of citizenship such as a passport or a Certificate of Citizenship. I cannot overstate the importance of making sure of one’s citizenship status before voting in North Dakota. If an individual votes and they are not eligible to vote, it’s one of the more egregious things a non-citizen can do to jeopardize their immigrant status. Voting by non-citizens is expressly prohibited by federal law and state law in North Dakota.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I RECEIVE A BALLOT APPLICATION IN THE MAIL?

Non-citizens regularly receive mail for opportunities they are not eligible for, most notably because the Department of Transportation distributes those lists. If an individual has a driver’s license, they may receive invitations to participate in Jury Duty or to request a ballot to vote in an upcoming election.

If an individual receives a ballot application and they are not a citizen, they are not eligible to vote. They should disregard the application, destroy it, or return it stating that they are ineligible to vote. As noted above, however, the most important thing to do is not to cast a vote as it will invalidate their attempts to become a U.S. citizen.

NEED HELP UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS?


Have a question about your citizenship status or need help understanding the process? You can email Olufemi Adisa at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota at olufemia@lssnd.org, and he’ll do his best to answer your questions.

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