Non-citizens (including legal permanent residents) are strictly forbidden from voting in federal elections in the United States. Being convicted of illegally voting in a federal election can result in fines, imprisonment, and serious immigration consequences including removal (deportation).
Because of these serious consequences, it is important to be aware of when you are legally authorized to vote and to register to vote in the United States; particularly if you are a green card holder who might one day apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship. At the same time, voting is one of the greatest benefits of citizenship and many new Americans will want to register to vote as soon as possible to have their voices heard by their elected officials.
You are eligible for naturalization after you have been a legal permanent resident for five years in most cases. That time reduces to three years if you are married to, and living with, a U.S. citizen spouse. Certain other legal permanent residents are also eligible to naturalize in less than five years. You can send your application (Form N-400) to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) 90 days before you are eligible to naturalize.
You must be sure that you meet all naturalization requirements including physical presence and moral character requirements before applying. If you are not sure whether you meet the requirements it is a good idea to consult an immigration attorney, because certain factors (especially past criminal convictions) that are revealed during the naturalization process can lead to denial of your application and/or removal from the United States.
Several months after you send in your naturalization application you will receive notice of an interview at a USCIS office. The interviewer will test your knowledge of U.S. government and history and your English language ability. If your application for naturalization is approved, you will be given a notice to attend your oath ceremony. You are not officially a U.S. citizen, however, until you have taken the oath of allegiance to the United States at this ceremony.
Upon successful completion of the oath ceremony you will be given your naturalization certificate and you will be a citizen of the United States.
Once you have taken the oath of allegiance, have your naturalization certificate, and are officially a U.S. citizen, you may register to vote in all federal, state, and local elections. You may not register to vote or vote before this (with a few minor exceptions for certain local elections). In fact, doing so could result in your application for naturalization being denied and removal from the United States.
You will be given voter registration information at your naturalization ceremony by USCIS or by a USCIS-approved nonpartisan voter registration group. Voter registration groups can submit your voter registration forms on your behalf after your oath ceremony.
If you do not wish to register to vote at the oath ceremony you can register to vote any time after at approved locations including the post office or the department of motor vehicles.
If you are eager to naturalize and vote, your best bet to get through the application process smoothly and without delays is to hire an experienced immigration attorney. See How to Find a Good Immigration Lawyer For Your Case.