Who Can Vote in the U.S?

Voting in the United States is important to maintain our democracy. Here's who can and can't vote. 

Voting is a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The 15th Amendment became law to ensure that all U.S. citizens can exercise their right to vote. Yet, understanding the intricacies of voting laws can be confusing. Each state may have its own rules and requirements that could affect your right to vote

This article answers the following questions related to voting:

Who Is Eligible to Vote in the United States?

Eligible voters in the U.S. meet the criteria listed by the U.S. Constitution. But the following are the general requirements for eligible voters in the United States.

  1. U.S. citizenship. The voter should be a U.S. citizen. This includes those born in the United States and naturalized U.S. citizens.
  2. Residency. Voters should meet the state's residency requirements where they wish to vote. Each state has its own rules when it comes to residency requirements.
  3. Age. The voter should at least be 18 years of age (voting age) by election day.
  4. Registration. The voter should follow the registration rules of their state. Note that voter registration law may vary in every state. For instance, some states allow same-day registration, meaning the voter can register to vote on election day. Other states have specific deadlines to register to vote.

Who Is Not Eligible to Vote?

The following groups of people are not eligible to vote in the United States:

Also, residents of U.S. territories, although U.S. citizens, cannot vote in presidential elections. They can vote in presidential primaries but not in general elections. This is because these territories do not have representatives in Congress.

Is Voting Mandatory in the United States?

The right to vote is a privilege given to citizens of the U.S. Voters don't need to exercise this privilege. They can choose to exercise it or not. There are no penalties or legal consequences if a person opts not to vote in the federal, state, local, or presidential elections.

What Are the Voter ID Requirements?

Each state has its own rules when it comes to voter ID laws. Some states may ask you to bring a photo identification card, while others are OK with nonphoto identification documents. The following is the general overview of how these voter ID requirements differ:

Photo ID vs. Nonphoto ID States

In states with strict voter ID requirements, you should present a specific identification card to vote. Often, it should be a photo ID, which can be your driver's license, passport, state ID, military ID, or similar documents. Other states may be more flexible. For instance, they would accept your Social Security card, voter registration card, bank statement with your name and address, and other similar documents.

Strict vs. Non-Strict Voter ID Laws

Under strict voter ID laws, you should use provisional ballots if you lack proper identification. Election officers may also ask you to submit certain requirements after Election Day. For instance, election officials may ask you to return to the office and bring an acceptable identification document. If you fail to bring these documents, the election officials will not count your provisional ballot.

Nonstrict voter laws allow you to cast your vote even without an acceptable identification document. For instance, you may verify your identity by asking a poll worker to vouch for you. You may also sign an affidavit affirming your identity. At the end of Election Day, election officials check your eligibility to vote. Then, the official decides whether to count the provisional ballot. In the nonstrict voter law process, you don't need further action.

Are People With Felony Convictions Allowed to Vote?

It depends on the state where you live. Each state has its own set of rules on how felony convictions could affect your right to vote. In most states, voting rights are automatically restored after the person gets released from jail or after parole or probation. Other states do not automatically restore felons' voting rights. Meanwhile, two states, including Washington, D.C., never revoke the voting rights of convicted felons.

States that Automatically Restore Felons' Voting Rights After Release

The following states automatically restore the voting rights of felons after their sentence:

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Connecticut
  4. Hawaii
  5. Illinois
  6. Indiana
  7. Maryland
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Michigan
  10. Minnesota
  11. Montana
  12. Nevada
  13. New Hampshire
  14. New Jersey
  15. New Mexico
  16. New York
  17. North Dakota
  18. Ohio
  19. Oregon
  20. Pennsylvania
  21. Rhode Island
  22. Utah
  23. Washington

States that Automatically Restore a Felon's Voting Rights After Parole or Probation

The following states automatically restore a person's voting rights after parole or probation:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arkansas
  3. Georgia
  4. Idaho
  5. Kansas
  6. Louisiana
  7. Missouri
  8. North Carolina
  9. Oklahoma
  10. South Carolina
  11. South Dakota
  12. Texas
  13. West Virginia
  14. Wisconsin

States that Do Not Automatically Restore Felon's Voting Rights

The following states need more requirements to restore one's voting rights:

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Delaware
  4. Florida
  5. Iowa
  6. Kentucky
  7. Mississippi
  8. Nebraska
  9. Tennessee
  10. Virginia
  11. Wyoming

Note that each state has its own rules on regaining the right to vote. Visit our page on felon voting laws by state to learn more.

Can Immigrants Vote in the U.S. Election?

Noncitizens, including lawful permanent residents, cannot vote in federal elections and state elections. Only U.S. citizens can take part in U.S. elections.

Noncitizens who try to vote without the legal authority could face the following consequences:

  1. Fines
  2. Imprisonment of up to one year
  3. Possibility of deportation

This could also affect the immigrant's ability to become a U.S. citizen through naturalization.

Do I Need to Register to Vote?

In most states, you must become a registered voter before you can vote. The requirements on how to register may vary in every state. Some states need you to submit the voter registration form days before Election Day. Meanwhile, other states allow same-day registration at polling places.

Because of these varying rules, it is best to check your state election office for details, particularly the deadline and requirements of your state. To learn more about your state's registration requirements, visit Vote.gov.

Can I Still Vote If I am Away from Home?

Yes. You can still take part in the election process even if you are away from home by applying to be an absentee voter. Absentee voting is a type of early voting. As an absentee voter, you can submit your absentee ballot in a drop box or through mail early.

This option is often used by those who can't vote on Election Day, for instance, those out of the country or state. Or if an illness or disability prevents you from going to the polling place in person, you can cast an absentee ballot.

Military service members and their families outside the U.S. can also vote via absentee ballot. Note that you should still meet the eligibility requirements to be eligible to vote as an absentee voter.

Have Questions About Voting? Contact a Civil Rights Attorney

Understanding the intricacies of federal laws and election laws can be difficult. If you are a first-time voter facing challenges with voter registration or have other questions related to your right to vote, consult a civil rights attorney near you. Civil rights attorneys can offer you the support and guidance to understand your voting rights better.

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