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Apr 17, 2024 | Rommel H. Ojeda

First-Time Voting for Naturalized Citizens, Explained

More than 2,690,000 naturalized citizens live in New York, and around 300,000 are expected to be first-time voters for this year’s presidential election according to USCIS naturalization data for the past 3 fiscal-years reviewed by Documented. Their votes are important to decide congress representatives, influence local policies and to also advocate for neighbors who are not eligible to vote. 

While the voting process can be confusing, especially for naturalized citizens with limited English proficiency, Documented compiled resources and spoke with experts to break down the process of voting after becoming a naturalized citizen.

I am an immigrant New Yorker. Can I vote? 

In order to participate in a local, state, or general election, foreign born New Yorkers must meet the following requirements: 

  • Have become a United States citizen through Naturalization
  • Become a United States citizen through your U.S. citizen parents 

You must also be at least 18 years old by the end of the year, or 18 years old by the day of the general, primary or other election you want to vote.  To vote in New York you must also be a resident of the state for at least 30 days.

According to Taina Wagnac, Senior Manager of State & Local Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), naturalized citizens can register to vote when they have their copy of certificate of naturalization. 

“If you do anything before getting it [the certificate] then it could impact your status and face deportation,” she said. 
Also read: How To Become a U.S. Citizen and Prepare for the Citizenship Test

Graphic by Rommel H Ojeda for Documented

How can I register to vote? 

You can register online, via mail, or in person. 

Register online: 

Naturalized citizens can register to vote online by going directly through New York State’s Online Voter Registration Portal, where you can create an account and register to vote online. 

“If you do it online, you will receive an email notification saying that your application has been submitted. And then, within the next week, you get a notification that it has been processed and that your status is active,” Wagnac said. 

Register by mail:

You can register by mail by filling out the registration form and mailing it to your County Board of Elections, listed on page 2. The forms are available in English and Spanish. You will receive a notification via mail a few days after your application has been received by the Board of Elections.

Register in person: 

National mail voter registration forms are also available in 21 languages and can be accessed through the United States Election Assistance Committee. 

What documents do I need to register?

As required in the registration form, only immigrants who have become Naturalized citizens can vote. You will need the following details:

Note: it highly recommended to verify that all the information included in the registration forms are accurate. For assistance, call the Board of Elections at: (866) 868-3692

How can I check my registration to vote? 

In New York State the registration processing times can take  between 2 to 4 weeks to go into effect. The timing can take longer during periods of high registration, such as the months leading up to a general election. 

A voter’s registration status can be checked by visiting the page https://voterlookup.elections.ny.gov

The page requires your name, last name, zip-code, and county.

When and where can I vote? 

Knowing your polling location is super important, Wagnac said, explaining that ”each ballot is identified by a precinct and that you have to vote at the specific precinct in which they reside.” She added that people who show up at the wrong polling site will not be able to vote and would have to vote through an affidavit ballot.  

“If you don’t see your name, don’t panic. Ask a worker to check and see if you need to ask for an affidavit ballot,” Wagnac said. 

WHERE: Naturalized citizens registered to vote can find their polling location here by entering their county, name, date of birth and zip code.  

WHEN: Deadlines for upcoming elections can be found here. Depending on where you live, you may be able to participate in special elections. See section below.  

Early voting provides voters with greater flexibility and accessibility to participate in the electoral process. Early voting typically occurs during a specified period leading up to Election Day, offering voters more opportunities to vote at their convenience and potentially reducing  wait times at polling locations on Election Day.  Find your Board of elections to see deadlines for early voting. 

What if I cannot cast my vote in person? 

There are options if you cannot make it to vote in person the day of the election. 

Absentee ballot: In New York State, an absentee ballot is a type of ballot that allows registered voters to vote by mail if they are unable to vote in person on Election Day due to reasons such as illness, disability, travel, or being away from their voting district. Voters must apply for an absentee ballot, which is then mailed to them, allowing them to fill it out and return it by mail or deliver it in person before the specified deadline. The deadline for absentee ballots can be found here. 

Early voting: Mail-in voting in New York State allows registered voters to cast their ballots by mail instead of voting in person at a polling place. Ballots should be posted by the deadline specified by the Board of Elections and must be received by the Board of Elections no later than Election Day. 

Note: USPS recommends mail in ballots to be  returned to the Board of Elections at least seven days before Election Day. 

What are the different types of elections?

General election: A general election is when all eligible voters in a country or region cast their votes to choose leaders for their government, such as a president or members of parliament, typically occurring at regular intervals like every four years. 

Primaries: Primaries are elections held within political parties where party members choose their preferred candidates to represent the party in the general election, allowing voters to have a say in selecting nominees for various political offices.

Special election: A special election is held outside the regular election cycle to fill a vacant political position, often due to unforeseen circumstances like a resignation or death of an incumbent, allowing voters to choose a replacement for the unexpired term. 

Local elections: Local elections involve voting for officials who will govern specific areas such as cities, towns, or counties, focusing on issues directly affecting those communities, like schools, public services, and local regulations. 

“First time voters should be aware of the  deadline for when to register to vote,  and of the polling site location. You can definitely check the BOE website to make sure you know where your location is, and  the time when polling sites are open. Also, make sure that you are registered to vote, check your status, and educate yourself on the candidates. Be aware of those running for your votes.” Wagnac said.  


Do workers at polling sites speak multiple languages? 

Wagnac said polling sites are required to have a translator or an interpreter at the site. Adding that finding a worker who speaks Spanish is very common.

Do I need to select a political party?

“Whether you’re Democrat, Republican or even with a third party, you have to assign yourself a political party in order to vote,” Wagnac said, adding that prospective voters can find information about political parties on the New York City Board of Elections website

Can permanent residents vote? 

No. Only naturalized citizens can vote. Casting a vote without being eligible to vote could lead to removal proceedings, Wagnac said. 

Can immigrants without a permanent status be involved in campaigns?

Yes. “The great thing about the United States, whether you are a citizen or a lawful permanent resident, is that you have freedom of speech, and expression. That aligns with participating in voluntary and federal campaigns. Federal law allows foreign nationals including undocumented activists to be able to volunteer for and contribute money to campaigns,” Wagnac said. 

This story was produced as part of the 2024 Elections Reporting Mentorship, organized by the Center for Community Media and funded by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

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