Let's say a non-US citizen (legal or illegal immigrant) is resident in the US and has a valid postal address in a state without "Voter ID" laws. Would anything prevent such a person from registering to vote in federal and state elections?

There is a related question on impersonating a registered voter, but I'm interested in the process of becoming a registered voter in the first place.

  • 22
    There is nothing stopping non-citizens from registering in voter ID states too (e.g. Texas has a conviction for a non-citizen voter). All voter ID does is verify that the voter is identified as person at address. I.e. the picture on the ID matches the person trying to vote and the name and address on the ID matches the voter registration. In states without voter ID, I could show up on election day and say I'm Jonathan Reez from whatever address, and there is no way to check. (Assumes that there is a Jonathan Reez registered at that address.)
    – Brythan
    Mar 27, 2018 at 0:15
  • 14
    Perhaps more relevant is the question "Is anything preventing US citizens from voting in US elections? And if not, why don't more of them do it?" The problem in the US is not too many people voting, it is too few.
    – Simd
    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:24
  • 6
    perhaps not, but likewise there's nothing stopping you from shooting a random stranger either, except laws.
    – dandavis
    Mar 28, 2018 at 10:50
  • 1
    I don't believe this is a question the poster has, to me that is pure rhetoric.
    – Jeffrey
    Mar 28, 2018 at 13:41
  • 8
    There's a law against it. Can a law against something be said to "prevent" it? Does the answer depend on the strength of the law's enforcement?
    – phoog
    Mar 28, 2018 at 15:40

9 Answers 9


My answer here shows that it is trivially easy to do in California.

The answer details official CA procedures, and at no point do they require anything that would prove citizenship (nor, offer the state ability to check citizenship without offered proof).

Short version:

  1. When registering to vote (quoting from my own answer, NOT from source supporting documents)

    The important part is that California's driver's license is OPTIONAL, and you can simply provide last 4 digits of SSN (which of course an illegal or non-citizen legal can make up) or even leave empty. You are NOT required to submit an ID by California.

    So, step 1 in the process is to register to vote without supplying an ID. You can either leave SSN empty, or use fake 4 digits.

    Or, for legal non-citizens, even use your real 4 digits - the state cannot conclusively check someone's citizenship status based on just 4 digits of SSN and a name, especially for common names (just because your SSN 4 digits matched a non-citizen immigrant in INS's database, doesn't mean that was you. But you can just leave SSN empty).

    As another aside, I don't think CA even checks citizenship even if it could - because legal non-citizen are eligible to vote in local elections in CA as far as I know, so they are actually permitted to register to vote. And you can't tell if someone is a citizen or illegal by name+SSNx4, since there is no database of either set.

  2. When voting in person, you need two types of IDs:

    As you can see, you are not required to prove your citizenship here either. You can bring utility bills. You can bring student ID cards (which, obviously, don't require one to be a citizen). ...

    While these (first set of required IDs) all are photo IDs, none of these are restricted to citizens. But, as per above, you don't even need a photo ID.

    None of these (second set of required IDs) are restricted to citizens. Some are easy to forge (especially A and B).

    When voting by mail, as linked answer shows, the accepted ID lists to be sent are identical to voting in person, and none of them are restricted to citizens, nor allow the state to check citizenship status based on them.

    So, step 2 is to vote in person or by mail, by supplying one of the following ((E) credit or debit card; (G) student identification card; (H) health club identification card; (I) insurance plan identification card) and one of the following ((A) utility bill; (B) bank statement; (C) government check; (O) identification documents issued by governmental disability agencies; (P) identification documents issued by government homeless shelters and other government temporary or transitional facilities)

    Note that none of the documents in either set allows finding out citizenship status by the state, even if the state was so inclined. Additionally, most of those documents are trivial to fake, especially second set.


Because if you vote as non-citizen, you have huge personal downside (likely prosecution), with very little upside (being the deciding vote tipping the election), benefiting mostly someone else: a politician.

There are 3 "filters/multipliers" why such upside is very small:

  • likelihood that illegal vote will tip the election. If politician wins or loses regardless of the illegal vote, no upside.
  • likelihood of winning the election
  • likelihood that elected politician deliver on his/her promises if elected - and even if the politician introduced the promised action, there is no guarantee it will became a law.

I do not know about any other crime where the criminal is required to prove his identity and address as requirement to committing the crime. Any such vote would be by mistake and misunderstanding, I think.

phoog in comments mentions even bigger downside for illegal voting:

In addition to possible criminal penalties, unlawful voting makes an alien inadmissible to the US and deportable from the US, which can of course prevent naturalization (8 USC 1182(a)(10)(D) on admissibility, 8 USC 1227(a)(6) on deportability, 8 USC 1429 on prerequisites to naturalization).

Another issue raised by @user4012 in the comments is that (some) people break law if chance of prosecuting is small, like jaywalking or smoking marijuana.

My response to it is: for both jaywalking and mj, benefit is immediate, personal and guaranteed. Benefit for illegal voting is delayed, impersonal, and unsure – so (IMHO) the temptation to break the law that specific way (illegal voting) is much lower. It is comparing apples to pencils.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Mar 30, 2018 at 12:59
  • There is no likely prosecution. The DNC co-chair fetes cop killers, and he's running for the AG of MN. You think he would prosecute one of his own?
    – user9790
    Jul 19, 2018 at 13:32


But, if you are a non-citizen (either with or without a valid immigration status), and you register to vote, you are likely breaking two laws. One would be the state law concerning voter registration, and the other, federal immigration law (a non-citizen claiming to be a citizen). Both are rather serious crimes. The latter gets you deported rather quickly if you get caught.

Voter ID has nothing to do with verifying that the potential voter is authorized to vote (i.e., that he's a citizen). It only concerns itself with authenticating the identity of the voter (and to a lesser extent that he/she lives in the voting precinct).

Interestingly, voter ID laws are harder on born-in-the-USA citizens than they are on naturalized citizens. I paid a fortune (many hundreds of dollars) for my naturalization certificate. It's only a decade or so old - but I'm never going to lose it anyway. I'm in the habit of always having a passport handy (since I've been an immigrant so long). I have valid ID coming out of my ears. Contrast my situation with that of an 80-year-old woman who lost her birth certificate 50 years ago and her driver's license 5 years ago.

  • 5
    I'm very glad you mentioned who voter ID laws tend to inconvenience. By any chance, when you start your answer with "No," do you know for a fact that no one screens the voter registrations after they're submitted? I feel like that's the crucial fact that is in debate here, and so far people are just guessing about whether there is a verification step or not. Mar 28, 2018 at 3:41
  • 8
    Voter ID laws in the US tend to fall in the same category as poll taxes and grandfather clauses. Excuses to keep certain groups - minorities, typically - in fear and away from the polls.
    – MandisaW
    Mar 28, 2018 at 15:20
  • 1
    Fleshing out my "No". The "Motor Voter" law (the National Voter Registration Act of 1993) is pretty specific that although registrants must swear ("under penalty of perjury") that they are a citizen, that states can't do much more that that. The Supreme Court (in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz., Inc.,) held those restrictions in place. I'm a "deputy voter registrar" in Texas, and I'm not supposed to ask for proof, just make sure they know that registrants understand what they are signing
    – Flydog57
    Mar 29, 2018 at 13:58
  • @Flydog57 Are those "don't ask" provisions intended to keep registrars from preferentially discriminating against potential voters? Mar 30, 2018 at 17:31
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    By "not supposed to ask", I didn't mean there was a list of things I was supposed to avoid. Instead, I meant, there's a list of things I'm supposed to do/ask, and that's not on it. Texas, by the way, is a voter-id state.
    – Flydog57
    Mar 30, 2018 at 21:23

TL;DR Nothing but personal honesty, but it seems that might be enough.

In Oregon you can register to vote with a utility bill, and all voting is by mail so might be expected to be one of the most vulnerable to fraud.

There is of course the threat of a big fine and jail for registering falsely, but it appears that is not actually a major factor. Oregon does have some systems for detecting fraud, but does not appear to have a path to checking citizenship[work needed].

Oregon does not consider this a problem, and lacking evidence of a serious issue, chooses to prioritize inclusion and a commitment to making voting easier.


I live in Seattle WA and attend my monthly 36th District Democrats meetings and was a PCO (precinct committee officer) for several election cycles. As an org we routinely run voter registration drives, which focus on photo ID methods (drivers licenses in WA do not require proof of citizenship) to verify name & eligibility and to check that they are not currently on the rolls in another county (many people can't remember). If they don't have a drivers license, they can supply the last 4 digits of a SSN. The person also signs a field on the form confirming they are a US citizen in WA state. Once registered voting is done by mail in WA.

We are volunteers and eager to signup Democrats, are generally pretty trusting and aren't especially focused on strict verification at county fairs and various public venues. Not saying we knowingly register non-citizens, but we give people the benefit of the doubt when they sign the voter registration form attesting to their citizenship status.

I have however, seen political training videos from other states where canvassers are paid to go door-to-door to sign up new voters and this worries me. They ask a resident living in the neighborhood questions, help fill out the voter registration form and then have the new voter sign it. In my opinion this has the potential to reward abuse by the paid canvasser. In one video the conversations are mostly in Spanish so it is hard to me to judge if the new voter is being misled by the paid canvasser, but I think there could be instances where a non-citizen new voter thinks or might even be told they are doing the right thing, not knowing the canvasser is paid to sign them up regardless. That is where I believe problems might originate: even if canvassers are not paid by the number of voters signed up (though maybe they might), those that turn in a decent tally of new voters are insuring they will continue to be paid to canvass, perhaps get paid a bonus ... etc.

  • 4
    If anyone is skeptical about the last paragraph, think how well such incentives worked out for Wells Fargo. Humans respond to incentives - and not always the way you wish or expect.
    – user4012
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:16
  • @Mark-in-Seattle I appreciate the in-depth answer about what you've experienced. Do you have a contact you could ask about what the registrar of voters does with the information you collect? Even when signatures are collected to put a measure on the ballot, they are audited in some way, and that is less critical of an issue than signing someone up to vote. I suspect that there is additional screening done, and that seems to be the crux of the issue. Mar 28, 2018 at 3:39
  • 1
    While this is an interesting story, it does not really directly answer the question. Could you add a paragraph which directly addresses the question ("What prevents a non-citizen from registering?"). If I read you correctly, the answer is: "In my experience, there are no checks for citizenship".
    – sleske
    Mar 28, 2018 at 7:32
  • "driver's licenses in WA do not require proof of citizenship": no US jurisdiction issues driver's licenses only to US citizens.
    – phoog
    May 2, 2022 at 0:54

No. In NYC, you can download, print, and mail in your voter registration form, and just lie on it.


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I don't know how often this actually occurs.

Now non-citizens can register to vote in San Francisco.


San Francisco began registering non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, to register to vote Monday in the November election for the city school board

Localities have allowed non-citizens to vote for centuries.


Famously liberal Takoma Park, a small jurisdiction in Maryland that abuts the District of Columbia, has long allowed noncitizens, including illegal immigrants, to vote in local elections. About 10 other Maryland jurisdictions have followed suit. And Chicago also allows noncitizen voting in its school elections.

Going back to the nation’s founding, as many as 40 states or territories have allowed noncitizen voting, according to Ron Hayduk, a political scientist at San Francisco State University.

During the country’s early years, being a male property holder was a more important question than citizenship status, Mr. Hayduk said.

The reasons the practice faded vary, Mr. Hayduk said. In New England, fears of French radicals escaping the French Revolution prompted a crackdown. The War of 1812 saw another rollback, as did the surge of immigration from southern and eastern European countries around the dawn of the 20th century.

“It really does boil down to these questions around who’s considered a member, a legitimate member of the polity,” he said.

Mr. Hayduk and Stanley Renshon, a political science professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, said the push for noncitizen voting comes and goes.

  • 6
    Voter registration applications are compared against multiple other government databases, from Federal (Social Security) to State (DMV) to local (School district & property tax rolls). Submitting fraudulent info doesn't translate to fraudulent registration - no more than providing a random string or number gets you access to bank accounts.
    – MandisaW
    Mar 28, 2018 at 15:25
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    @MandisaW - source of your assertion? Especially source that explicitly confirms checing citizenship status against any such databases.
    – user4012
    Mar 28, 2018 at 16:07
  • 3
    @MandisaW How will they check with only the last 4 digits of a SSN, or none at all? Many people in NYC don't have a driver's license. Most people in NYC rent, and will not be on property tax rolls.
    – Chloe
    Mar 28, 2018 at 18:01
  • 1
    @Chloe, @ user4012 Read the section titled "Verifying your Identity". While many New Yorkers do not drive, many do have other forms of State-issued photo ID, or other government documentation. If you don't have a DMV #, you have to provide something verifying your identity.
    – MandisaW
    Apr 5, 2018 at 15:39
  • 1
    Also, people making this "anyone can say anything" argument keep forgetting that making a false affidavit is a serious crime, punishable by jail time and major fines. For non-citizens, it's also an automatic justification for deportation.
    – MandisaW
    Apr 5, 2018 at 15:41

It might be easy to do, but there is no evidence that it happens.

On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that voter ID laws reduce turn out. It is very difficult for some people to get documents.

Legal and illegal aliens have a lot at stake in their residency here.They are often supporting their extended families back home. Why would they risk deportation to affect the American political system? In order to make a real difference, there would have to be a big mobilization effort which would surely be detected.


TL;DR: The strict answer to the question "Is anything preventing non-US citizens from illegally registering to vote in non-Voter-ID states?" is "no". But if you asked "Is anything preventing non-US citizens from illegally registering to vote in Voter-ID states?", then the answer to the question is still (basically) "no".

This is because of the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (decided 7–2, with Thomas & Alito dissenting). In the 1993 Voter Registration Act, Congress empowered the federal government to set out a voter registration procedure for federal elections, and required that states must accept voter registrations made via this procedure. States may also develop their own voter registration procedures so long as the requirements for registration are the same as those for the federal procedure. The only states that are exempt from this requirement are those states that do no require registration for federal elections, or allow voter registration on election day.

The 2013 Supreme Court decision found that in particular, this means that the states may not require any additional documentation for voter registration beyond what is required by the federal regulations. The federal voter registration procedure only requires "proof of identity", meaning a photo ID and a proof of residency. It also requires an oath of citizenship under penalty of perjury, but does not require any further documentation of one's citizenship. One can therefore register to vote in federal elections in any state without providing a physical proof of citizenship, just by swearing an oath.

One final detail: I did say that the answer to the question is still "basically" no. The exception is Arizona, which apparently operates a two-tiered system: you must provide proof of citizenship to vote in state elections, but you can register to vote in federal elections using the federal form. Alabama and Georgia have laws that allow such a two-tiered system as well, but they have not implemented them.


Short answer:

No because fraudulent information on a form will be checked against a database and identified as fraudulent and fail to successfully register that person to vote. You can certainly fill out the paperwork, but nothing will result from that. In fact, non-citizens do this all the time. There are numerous reasons why, but the primary 2 reasons are that DMV paperwork is extremely complicated and convoluted with tons of redundancy (eg you fill out all of your information multiple times) AND its very common for people to try to fill out every last box on the form in order to avoid getting sent to the back of the line because they missed something.

Long version:

Filling out a piece of paper fraudulently at the DMV and giving it to a person or dropping it into a pile results in your registration does not work.

Go to the DMV. Fraudulently fill out the paperwork with a fake/made up name, and a fake/made up SSN (or any combination of real/made up or even stolen).

Give that paper to a person, drop it in a stack, and walk out. You have just registered to vote as a non-citizen. Success!

No. Your piece of paper now sits in a pile. After a day, or a week, or a month someone from the DMV takes a big stack of papers and starts entering that information into a computer. When they get to your piece of paper they start typing that information into the computer and it fails either because the name does not match the SSN (or the last 4 of the SSN) or because the real name/SSN (or last 4) has already been registered. This is because that computer inside your DMV office is connected to a server at another facility operated by the state DMV and/or the state elections office that matches the information to known SSNs.

So your fraudulent ID form filled out solely for voter registration fails.

  • 4
    How does that work in states that don't require SSN (eg California)? How does it work when a legally resident non-citizen actually has an SSN? Mar 27, 2018 at 14:54
  • 2
    The SSN lookup will specify non-citizen
    – Joe
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:17
  • 5
    2. Do you have any proof that this happens considering that California officially allows non-citizens to register to vote, since they are eligible to vote in local elections (which basically proves this entire answer 100% wrong as a concept).
    – user4012
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:18
  • 4
    @user4012 "if you are not a citizen, your ballot will not have federal, state, or other local or district contests, because non-citizens are not eligible to vote in these contests. The ballot for non-citizens will include the contest for Board of Education only." sfgov.org/elections/… Mar 27, 2018 at 19:54
  • 5
    @user4012 - Yes, whenever I've voted in California, you either bring in the specific absentee ballot that was mailed to you or you show up at your polling place and receive a particular form of the ballot. (The info they mailed you has a short code number, or they look it up in the sign-in book.) This allows neighboring precincts (different city council districts or different school districts or something--jurisdictions never seem to line up logically) to share a polling place, or to allow for voting in party primaries. This system could easily be used for local vs. federal ballots, as well. Mar 28, 2018 at 3:32

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