The Burlington City Council agreed Monday to consider expanding voting rights to all city residents without regard to citizenship status.
By a 10-2 margin, the council approved a resolution by Councilor Adam Roof, an Independent from Ward 8, to pass the matter onto to the council’s charter change committee, with an eye to putting the measure to a vote on Town Meeting Day.
Roof said giving the city’s substantial immigrant and refugee population voting rights will boost civic engagement in the Queen City.
“They’re our neighbors, their kids are in our school systems,” he said. “They’re paying into our tax base, and they live here.”
Council President Kurt Wright, a Republican from Ward 4 was one of the two councilors who voted against Roof’s proposal. “We want everybody to vote but citizens ought to be the ones deciding and voting on elections,” he said.
The second ‘No’ vote came from Ali Dieng, who himself is a relatively new American. He said the right to vote in local elections doesn’t really help non-citizen residents. Dieng, a Democrat-Progressive from Ward 7, said the focus should be on helping them navigate the path to legal citizenship.
“That’s the only thing you can look forward to,” he said. “A citizen and a no-citizen, what differentiates them is just the voting.”
Montpelier voters approved a similar measure in 2018. The city’s charter change needs approval by the state Legislature before becoming law.
Montpelier voters approved a similar measure last year and is waiting the required approval of the state legislature.
Burlington voters have already weighed in on the question of non-citizen voting, shooting down a ballot measure in 2015 by margin of 16%. Roof, who said there is no “constitutional standard” that requires voters to be U.S. citizens, hopes voters will see things differently this time around.
“People rush to choose sides, this is either a liberal or conservative issue, it’s a team versus team thing,” he said. “I think it’s a cancer that continues to grow out of Washington into our local communities and I’m hopeful and confident that’s not what will happen here.”
The charter change committee is expected to report back to the council later this year. If approved, the measure could land on Burlington’s 2020 Town Meeting Day ballot.