Uncloaking the Non-Citizen Voting in U.S. Federal Elections

Written by

Shrishti Bajpai

Fact check by

Afreen Abbasi

Updated on

Jul 14,2024

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One most discussed and ambiguous issue is non-citizen voting in U.S. federal elections. As various opinions and sometimes harmfully inaccurate information circulate in the public domain, it is necessary to understand where the truth lies. Thus, this blog aims to provide an in-depth analysis of non-citizen voting, its background, legal documents, and the consequences their implementation or the passage of the SAVE Act 2024 would entail.

Federal Prohibition on Non-Citizen Voting

Federal law rigorously prohibits non-citizens from voting in federal elections. This is evident from the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996: the text does not allow an alternative interpretation of this rule. Therefore, non-citizens would be subject to harsh penalties for any violations. The law perfectly aligns with the general opinion: U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens may only participate in federal elections.

Local Elections and Non-Citizen Voting

Although non-citizens are generally prohibited from participating in federal elections in the US, some local jurisdictions extend non-citizen voting for local elections. However, such exceptions are less prevailing and apply to the elections of local offices, such as school boards or city councils in a few cities and towns, as noted above. Namely, non-citizens may vote in some of the cities in California, Maryland, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, among others. The voting offices make exclusive lists of voters to prevent non-citizens from entering the nationwide or state databases.

The SAVE Act 2024 Background and Intent

SAVE Act 2024 would likely be a legislative response to non-citizen voting. It would be conservative legislation designed to tighten the ban on non-citizen voting and impose stricter voter identification requirements. This law would be the result of a wide narrative that has been adopted seriously by former President Donald Trump as well as other politicians who maintain that non-citizens vote in federal elections. Of course, very little evidence is provided for it.

Legislative Details and Challenges

The SAVE Act 2024 proposes significant changes to the current voter registration and identification process. It focuses on mandating documentary proof of citizenship (DPOC) for voter registration, which is already required in states such as Arizona. However, instituting such requirements faces several challenges:

1. Widespread Lack of Real ID Compliance

As of April 2023, about 52% of Americans lack a Real ID-compliant document, which could lead to the wide-scale disenfranchisement of eligible voters if the Act's provisions are implemented without appropriate preparation.

2. Legal Challenges

Similar laws in states like Kansas and Arizona have faced legal challenges; federal courts have usually deemed such laws unconstitutional. The Act's stringent provisions will likely also face judicial review.

Voter Registration Safeguards

All states other than North Dakota require individuals to swear they are citizens on their voter registration applications. In this way, the law is one bulwark against non-citizen voting. Furthermore, states analyze voter registration information with other federal files, such as DMV records, to ensure the information provided on the forms precisely matches. Violent affidavits are subject to hefty penalties, including several thousand dollars in fines and several years in prison.

Evidence of Non-Citizen Voting

Studies and reviews have shown that cases of non-citizen voting are extremely rare. For instance, a review by the Brennan Center for Justice in 2016 found only 30 suspected cases of non-citizen voting out of 23.5 million votes cast. These findings indicate that non-citizen voting is not wide enough to warrant the comprehensive measures introduced by the SAVE Act 2024.

Evolution of Non-Citizen Voting Rights

Historically, the U.S. allowed non-citizens to vote in various elections. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, non-citizen voting was common in many states and territories. However, as the nation evolved and the political landscape changed, these rights were gradually curtailed, culminating in the 1996 federal prohibition.

Political Motivations

Political motivations often drive the debate over non-citizen voting. The narrative of widespread voter fraud, including non-citizen voting, has been used to justify stricter voter identification laws. Critics argue that these measures are more about disenfranchising certain voter demographics than addressing a legitimate problem.

Implications of Stricter Voter ID Laws

Strict voter identification laws, like those proposed in the SAVE Act 2024, could disproportionately affect marginalized communities, including minorities, low-income individuals, and the elderly. These groups are less likely to possess the required identification and face more significant barriers to obtaining it.

Implementing stricter voter ID requirements also places a substantial administrative burden on state and local election officials. Ensuring all eligible voters have the necessary documentation requires significant resources and time, which could strain already limited budgets.

Ensuring Electoral Integrity

While it is essential to maintain elections' integrity, policies must balance security and accessibility. Measures to prevent non-citizen voting should not unduly burden eligible citizens or infringe upon their right to vote.

Data-Driven Decisions

Policy decisions should be based on objective data and evidence. The minimal instances of non-citizen voting documented in various studies suggest that the focus should be on enhancing existing safeguards rather than implementing overly restrictive measures.


The issue of non-citizen voting in U.S. federal elections is complex and often misunderstood. While federal law bars non-citizens from voting in federal elections, a few municipalities allow non-citizen participation in local elections. These changes in local voting laws are proposed by the SAVE Act 2024, which seeks to introduce stringent requirements for voter ID; however, these changes are very much criticized on legal and practical grounds. Ensuring U.S. election integrity must be a step that is fashioned to take into consideration all eligible voters' potential effects based on objective data.

If the United States can ensure an inclusive yet secure electoral process, it will protect the democratic values and rights of all its citizens. To know the process of immigration for the US, TerraTern is right there for you to help you through the process and smoothly get through it!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the current law respecting non-citizen voting in U.S. federal elections?

The federal law bars any non-citizen from voting in federal elections and imposes strict penalties on offenders: a fine, imprisonment, and deportation.

Can non-citizens vote in any U.S. elections?

In some local jurisdictions, non-citizens are permitted to vote in local elections for offices such as school boards and city councils. These exceptions are, however, very few and highly regulated.

What is the SAVE Act of 2024?

The SAVE Act of 2024 proposes a legislative response aimed at tightening the prohibition on non-citizen voting and at tightening voter identification requirements.

What are some of the challenges to the Save Act of 2024?

Some of the challenges that the SAVE Act of 2024 faces include a wide lack of compliance in Real ID, many eligible voters may be disenfranchised, and they are likely to face legal challenges based on previous courts' rulings.

Is non-citizen voting a big problem in the U.S.?

Studies have consistently shown that instances of non-citizen voting are extremely rare, indicating that it is not a big problem warranting comprehensive measures.