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Opinion

Dear Atty. Gurfinkel: ESQ Accidentally registering to vote

IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel - The Philippine Star

I am a green card holder and am now eligible for naturalization. However, when I renewed my driver’s license, there was a section on the form to allow people to register to vote in elections. I filled out the entire form, not realizing I was not only renewing my driver’s license, but also registering to vote. Will this be a problem when I file for naturalization?

Very truly yours, JG

Dear JG:

Registering to vote or voting in US elections could have severe consequences for non-citizens, not only in connection with their eligibility for naturalization, but also for their status as green card holders.

Under US immigration law, non-citizens are prohibited from registering to vote or voting in US elections, as it would affect their good moral character (GMC). It could also involve making false claims to US citizenship. However, USCIS recently acknowledged that people will sometimes accidentally or inadvertently register to vote when renewing their driver’s license or ID at the state DMV, as many states have incorporated voter registration into the application for a new or renewed driver’s license or state ID card.

Under new USCIS guidance:

• USCIS “will not penalize an applicant who unknowingly or un-willfully registers to vote.”

• USCIS will not consider an applicant for naturalization “to have unlawfully registered to vote if the applicant did not complete or sign the voter registration section… in the motor vehicle or other state benefit application.” However, it could be a different issue if the person did sign that portion of the renewal form dealing with registering to vote.

• USCIS would not consider an applicant “to have unlawfully claimed to be a US citizen if the applicant did not affirmatively indicate that he or she is a US citizen.”  However, if the applicant did register to vote, the applicant would have to prove that the registration form did not contain a question about whether the applicant is a US citizen, or that the applicant did not indicate, in response to that question, that he or she is a US citizen.  Therefore, if the form asks if a person is a US citizen, and they checked the “yes” box, they could have problems.

• If the person knowingly answered “yes” to a question asking whether he or she is a US citizen in order to vote, they would be in violation of the law for having falsely claimed to be a US citizen.

You should also be aware that USCIS has access to voter registration documentation and could discover if there is any record of a person having registered to vote or voted in a US election. That is why I caution people that when renewing a driver’s license (or even applying for a job), they should NOT claim to be a US citizen, as the consequences could be severe and there typically is no waiver available for false claims to US citizenship.

If you have any questions or concerns about having inadvertently registered to vote, you should consult with an attorney who can evaluate your situation and determine if you have committed any violations or if you are possibly eligible to apply for naturalization and prove up that any voter registration was accidental or inadvertent.

Website: www.gurfinkel.com

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