A wave of citizenship applications has overwhelmed US officials, leading to waits of more than a year, potentially keeping immigrants out of the voting booth for the 2008 presidential election.

The US agency that examines applications said Wednesday that it had received 1.4 million appeals for citizenship, almost double the number over the year before, and despite hiring some 1,500 employees to deal with the backlog, would-be citizens face long delays.

“As a result, average processing times for certain applications may grow longer,” the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office said in a statement.

“Naturalization applications filed after June 1, 2007 may take approximately 16-18 months to process.”

The agency said the 16-18 months only applied to completed applications, for those who very recently filed for citizenship, the wait may be even longer.

That timeframe pushes some applications to after the November 2008 presidential election, with immigration a key issue in the war of words among candidates.

“The longer a person takes to become a citizen, the fewer voters you have on the rolls,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition told the Boston Globe. “When we’re faced with a national election that determines the next president, the last thing we should be doing is keeping people from voting.”

Patricia Montes, an immigrant advocate from Honduras who recently applied for citizenship, is worried she will miss the chance to vote.

“More than anything I want to vote,” Montes told the Globe. “I believe in democracy. I have few opportunities to participate in the civic life of this country without being a citizen.”

Cecilia Munoz, executive vice president of the National Council of La Raza, predicted to the daily Sun-Sentinel that hundreds of thousands of immigrants could miss their chance at the ballot box.

“It’s an unhealthy thing for a democracy when you invite people to the door, but slam it in their face when it comes time to participate,” Munoz told the Fort Lauderdale, Florida paper.

Immigration advocates have targetted eligible residents as voters, encouraging those who can to become citizens and register to go to the polls, especially in key immigrant-heavy swing states such as Florida.