Home » News » Noncitizens not eligible to register to vote in California

Noncitizens not eligible to register to vote in California

The Facts about Voting

LWVC Press Mention from AP News

CLAIM: California is registering noncitizens to vote.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Voter registration in California is restricted to U.S. citizens who are state residents and at least 18 years old on Election Day. While one city, San Francisco, does allow noncitizen parents to vote in local school board races, those voters go through a separate registration process and the policy doesn’t allow them to vote in any other elections.

THE FACTS: As the Nov. 8 election approaches, some social media users are reviving concerns about people who are not legal U.S citizens being allowed to vote.

Among the latest false claims is that California, the nation’s most populous state, is registering noncitizens ahead of the decisive midterms.

“Now that California is registering non-citizens to vote and has refused to cooperate with the federal election integrity program, all votes from California should be nullified and federal representatives from the state be removed from Congress,” reads one post that’s been frequently shared across social media platforms in the weeks leading up to the election. “All in favor raise your hand.”

“California voting system is complete trash, a scam perpetuated on legal Californians, legal US citizens,” wrote an Instagram user who shared the same claim.

But California state law requires that a person be a valid U.S. citizen, state resident and at least 18 years of age on Election Day to register to vote, according to the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections. They must also not be currently serving a prison term for a felony conviction or found mentally incompetent to vote by a judge.

Joe Kocurek, a spokesperson for California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, noted the claims can be found on Twitter going back to at least 2018.

“The claims here are false,” he said by email. “California does not allow noncitizens to vote in elections.”

While some noncitizens were erroneously allowed to register and cast ballots in California in 2018, that was an isolated incident. At the time, at least 1,500 people ineligible to vote — including some noncitizens — were enrolled due to what state officials said was a “processing error” as it launched a new “motor voter” program automatically registering voters when they seek a drivers license. About six were found to have voted in that year’s midterm elections.

Still, federal law bans noncitizens, which includes green card and visa holders, from voting in federal elections. It doesn’t, however, prevent states or municipalities from granting them voting rights in local races.

That’s why San Francisco allows noncitizens to vote in school board races, so long as they are parents or legal guardians of children living in the city. The 2016 law remains in place for now, but it’s being challenged in state court on the grounds that it violates the state constitution.

Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, a government accountability group, says San Francisco has a special process for school board races, in which noncitizen parents are kept in a separate voter registration file.

“There is no mixing,” he said by email. “Noncitizen parents cannot vote in federal, state, or city elections. Just school board races.”

Across the bay in Oakland, residents will decide on a ballot referendum this election granting noncitizens parents similar voting rights in school board races. That’s the only other place in California where noncitizen voting is even up for consideration, says Carol Moon Goldberg, board president for the League of Women Voters of California.

Regarding the claim that California has refused to cooperate with a federal election integrity program, that appears to be in reference to a short-lived effort during former President Donald Trump’s administration to investigate voter fraud concerns, said Moon Goldberg.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was formed in 2017 only to be disbanded in a matter of months after most state election officials, including California secretary of state’s office, rebuffed the commission’s requests for state voter data citing privacy concerns.

This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.