Vermont City Council Passes Proposal to Let Non-Citizens Vote in Local Elections

Bill Pan
By Bill Pan
October 9, 2019USshare
Vermont City Council Passes Proposal to Let Non-Citizens Vote in Local Elections
Stock photo of signs showing the way to a polling station. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Councilmembers in Burlington, Vermont, have voted in favor of a resolution that would grant non-citizens the right to vote in the city’s local elections.

Councilmember Adam Roof drafted the resolution, which passed in a 10-2 vote on Monday, arguing that everyone who lives in Burlington is affected by decisions made by the local government, and therefore should be allowed to cast votes in local elections, regardless of citizenship status.

“All residents have the right, in my eyes, to participate in the local democratic process, and the highest level of participation in that process is being able to cast your vote,” wrote Roof in a statement given to WCAX-TV. The councilor said he has been pushing to expand voting rights to all Burlington residents in order to “lower the barrier to participation” and “build a more inclusive community.”

One citizen spoke out against the measure at the vote, saying the council was “pandering” politically to their voting bases. “We have 40,000-plus registered voters. How many of those are nonresident college students who vote on our property taxes, our legislators, our city leadership, which includes all of you, and much more, and then move away?”

Council President Kurt Wright, a Republican, and Councilor Ali Dieng, a Democrat/Progressive, voted against the resolution. Wright told the CBS affiliate that he believes the right to vote should be reserved for citizens.

“I think that’s important. I would not expect to move to another country and not become a citizen and expect to be voting in their elections,” said Wright. “We voted on this just a few years ago and the citizens of Burlington voted significantly against it so I’m not supportive of this proposal.”

An immigrant from Mauritania in West Africa, Ali Dieng agreed with Wright, saying that voting is “sacred,” reported local newspaper Seven Days. He suggested the city council to focus on encouraging legally registered voters to vote instead of expanding voting rights to non-citizens.

The proposal is now referred to the Charter Change Committee, which could add an amendment to the city’s charter. But it is the state Legislature that has the final say on whether it will become a law.  Vermont’s Democratic-majority legislature has already endorsed a similar measure earlier this year for Montpelier, the state’s capital.

Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has not signed Montpelier’s charter into law. Allowing non-citizens to vote would be in conflict with a 2017 law preventing the state from keeping databases with a resident’s immigration status and sharing information with the federal government.

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