FILE - A soon-to-be U.S. citizen candidate holds an American flag and the words to The Star-Spangled Banner before the start of a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Miami, Florida, Aug. 16, 2019.
FILE - A soon-to-be U.S. citizen holds an American flag and the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the start of a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office in Miami, Aug. 16, 2019.

BOSTON - Federal immigration officials have acknowledged that they erroneously told some new U.S. citizens in Massachusetts that they could not vote in next week's election because they had missed the state's voter registration deadline.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the citizenship process, said Thursday that officials at some recent naturalization ceremonies mistakenly told new citizens they were ineligible to vote because the October 24 registration deadline had passed.

State law, however, allows new citizens to register until 4 p.m. the day before an election if they became citizens after the deadline.

Agency spokesman Daniel Hetlage said in a written statement that the error was based on information from a state website. The agency has contacted all new citizens who may have received incorrect information, he said.

"The state has since updated its webpage and we at USCIS are not aware of this happening anywhere else," Hetlage said.

In a statement to GBH News, which first reported the story, the immigration agency said it was contacting 409 new citizens who had received incorrect information at 36 ceremonies Monday and Tuesday.

Debra O'Malley, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts secretary of state, said the elections website did not previously include details on registration for new citizens. The issue has rarely arisen, she said, but department officials have consistently told USCIS about the extension for newly naturalized citizens.

"We have certainly made them aware of this in the past," O'Malley said. "Perhaps they have new people, perhaps it wasn't communicated. I can't really say. I wish they had contacted us directly beforehand."

Information updated

The website has been updated saying new citizens can register at their local elections offices until 4 p.m. November 2 if they have documentation that they were naturalized after the October 24 deadline.

The snafu has drawn backlash from immigration activists and some new citizens who wonder how far the misinformation spread.

Erika Constantine was among roughly 20 people becoming U.S. citizens at a ceremony in Boston on Tuesday when an immigration official said they could not vote next week because they missed the registration deadline. It shocked Constantine, whose local elections office had provided the correct information saying she had until November 2.

When she raised her hand and challenged the official, he backed down, she said.

"He said, 'Well, that's great, everybody register to vote,' " said Constantine, a physician at Brown University who was born in Canada but moved to the U.S. in 2003.

Still, she wondered how many others had believed that they could not vote. "What about all the other officers in Massachusetts? What are they telling people?" she said.

It was especially troubling to Constantine, who pursued citizenship largely so she could vote in next week's election.

"I have three children who are American citizens, and I had no voice," she said. "Everybody's voice is important, and what concerns me the most is that all these new immigrants are being misinformed."

Anthony Drago, a Boston immigration lawyer, said one of his clients was among those given erroneous information. Federal officials called him and his client Wednesday to correct the error, he said, and his client has since registered to vote. His client is "thrilled" to cast a ballot in next week's election, he said.

"They knew there was an error and they fixed it rapidly," Drago said. 

What Happens Next?

What It Means to Become President-Elect in the US

In the United States, Democrat Joe Biden is being called the president-elect.

President-elect is a descriptive term not an official office. As such, Biden has no power in the government, and he would not until he is inaugurated at noon on January 20, 2021.

American news networks, which track all of the vote counting, determined on November 7 that Biden’s lead had become insurmountable in Pennsylvania, putting him over the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. Within minutes of determining his lead was mathematically assured, they projected him as the winner.

That is why news organizations, including VOA, are calling Biden the "projected winner."

Sometimes, in the case of particularly close elections, when news networks make this call, the other candidate does not concede victory. President Donald Trump has not done so, alleging voter fraud without substantial evidence and vowing to fight on. The president’s position has left Washington lawmakers divided, with Republicans backing a legal inquiry into allegations of vote fraud, even as they celebrate other congressional lawmakers who won their races.

When will the dispute be resolved?

The U.S. election won’t be officially certified for weeks. In the meantime, court challenges and state recounts could occur.

So far, the Trump administration has not provided evidence for any fraud that could overturn the result, but there is still time for more legal challenges.

Once states have certified the vote, pledged electors then cast their votes in the Electoral College in mid-December. Congress then certifies the overall Electoral College result in early January, about two weeks before Inauguration Day.