From the Desk of Bonnie Stern Wasser, Staff Attorney: What to do if you receive a ballot but can’t vote.

So far this year we’ve encountered a couple of examples of non-US citizens who were either mailed a ballot or learned that they were registered to vote when they should not be. While very uncommon, it can happen for various reasons: someone was automatically registered by accident when they received their drivers license, or someone filled out a registration form because of a misunderstanding or a language barrier. Remember, only US Citizens can register to vote and vote in Washington State and in federal elections. So here’s some guidance if you or someone you know falls into this situation.

What should you do if you receive a voter ballot or a jury summons and you are not a U.S. Citizen?

If a non-U.S. Citizen receives a voter ballot or jury summons, do not vote or sign the ballot or jury summons as a U.S. citizen. A non-U.S. citizen can be denied immigration or citizenship benefits and even be deported for making a false claim to U.S. citizenship or voting illegally. If you are an applicant or potential applicant for U.S. citizenship, the act of registering to vote, actually voting or falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen can jeopardize being a person of “good moral character” required for naturalization. In addition, there can be criminal penalties.

You might wonder, “How did they get my name if I’m not a US citizen?” Well, there are some situations where you might be inadvertently registered to vote, such as when applying for a driver’s license. Some states have Automatic Motor Voter Registration laws. Perhaps you’re a young person in high school who inadvertently registered when talking to members of the military that register young men for Selective Service, regardless of citizenship status.  Since all of these agencies share data, it is possible that someone registered to vote automatically or inadvertently.  The new Washington Future Voter program that started July 1, 2019 could also lead to automatic or inadvertent registration. This program allows 16- and 17-year-olds to sign up as future voters. They will register to vote automatically when they turn 18. In the case of jury summonses, courts get names from state driver’s license departments or voter registrations.

What should you do if you receive a ballot or jury summons in the mail or otherwise think you might be a registered voter when you should not be?

  1. First, check whether you are in fact a registered voter. In Washington State, you can look your name up here:  Make sure you enter your personal information accurately, including all name combinations you might have used. 
  1. If the above link shows that you are indeed registered, the next thing to do is cancel your registration. You must complete a form and send it in to your county elections office listed on page 2 in the preceding form link.  

If you are currently applying for or anticipate applying for any immigration or citizenship benefit, including if you are in removal proceedings, then be sure to keep a copy of your registration cancellation and send it certified return receipt mail or by some other delivery method that offers a signature for proof of delivery. This copy of your correspondence and proof of delivery is essential in case this becomes an issue in your citizenship or immigration case.  You should eventually receive a letter from the county elections office verifying cancellation of your registration.  Be sure to keep this letter as well.

  1. Once you get verification from the county, or if you don’t hear back from the county within a few weeks, go back to the first link above and check your voter registration status again. If your name doesn’t show up, that’s good. If your name is still there, then you need to call the county and follow up with your correspondence.
  1. Finally, if you think you might have actually voted at some point, in Washington, you can also track your voting history and track ballots in the first link above. There should be a tab on the left. At the bottom of the tab, you can see your voting history. If you are not a U.S. citizen, hopefully, there is no voting history.

Similarly, if you receive a jury summons, there should be a box to check indicating you are not a U.S. citizen. Be sure to mark that box and send the card back to the court. Again, make a copy for your records and send it some way that you can track delivery.

At some point, there may be some local jurisdictions that will allow non-citizens to vote or serve on a jury; but, you would need to make sure there are no state or federal candidates on the ballot, or state or federal referenda or other issues on the ballot that require US citizenship. The most important thing is never claim to be a U.S. citizen if you are not a citizen because there are severe immigration and criminal penalties. If in doubt whether you are eligible to vote, or if you have a voting, registration or jury service history, it is best to consult an immigration attorney to discuss your options.

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