To avoid mistakenly registering to vote when applying for a driver's license, non-citizens should understand how Motor-Voter laws work. Two points are particularly important. First, these laws typically require employees at the Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") to ask every member of the public they come into contact with if they would like to register to vote. This includes people who are clearly ineligible, such as a person who is obviously under age 18 or a person who presents a lawful permanent resident card as identification. Second, DMV employees are not election officials and are not trained to determine who is and is not eligible to register. Their job is simply to hand voter registration forms to anyone who accepts the offer to register and send the completed forms on to the Board of Elections. They do not screen the completed forms to make sure the people filling them out are actually eligible to vote.
Do Not Assume You May Register to Vote Based on Statements of DMV Employees
Some non-citizens think that because a DMV employee asks them if they want to register to vote, they are eligible to do so. This is a mistake. As mentioned above, DMV employees make this inquiry to non-citizens because the law requires them to make it of everybody not because non-citizens are eligible to vote. Furthermore, non-citizens should never register to vote based on the advice or statements of DMV employees that this is permitted. DMV employees are not election officials and are not necessarily familiar with election laws which prohibit all non-citizens, including lawful permanent residents, from voting.
Carefully Read All Forms You Are Asked to Fill Out and Sign at the DMV
If you are a non-citizen and are asked if you want to register to vote at the DMV, you should decline the offer. But this is not enough to protect yourself. Mistakes can happen, and it is possible that a DMV employee will simply hand you a voter registration form to fill out without asking you if you want to register to vote or will give you a voter registration form even after you have said you do not want to register. Therefore, even if you have not stated an interest in registering to vote, you must carefully read every form DMV employees ask you to fill out and make sure the form is not a voter registration form and does not ask you to declare that you are a U.S. citizen.
Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Complete or Sign a Voter Registration Form or Other Form Asking You to Declare that You are a U.S. Citizen
This sounds obvious, but it may be easier said than done. It is not unheard of for DMV employees to make people seeking ordinary driver's license services, such as a change of address on their license, fill out voter registration forms to collect the information for the license. If you notice, during your review of the forms the DMV gives you to complete and sign that you are being asked to complete a voter registration form, explain that you do not want to register to vote and hand the blank, unsigned form back to the DMV employee. If the employee nonetheless insists that you complete the form to receive ordinary driver's license services, ask to speak to a supervisor and insist on using a different form.
If You Unintentionally Register to Vote, De-Register and Contact an Attorney Before Seeking Any Immigration Benefits
If you discover that you unintentionally registered to vote, you should write to the Board of Elections as soon as possible; explaining that you registered by mistake, want to be removed from the voter registration rolls, and would like written confirmation that you are no longer registered. You should also consult with a qualified immigration attorney before applying for additional immigration benefits as applying for such benefits with a history of registering to vote may result in you being placed in removal proceedings. Some non-citizens who have registered to vote may still be eligible for immigration benefits, but each case is different so consultation with an attorney is crucial.
The materials contained in guide have been prepared by Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice or counsel.
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