Two Vermont cities have recently allowed residents who aren’t American citizens to vote in municipal elections. In less than six months, Burlington could vote to become the third.
Ward 5 Democrat Ben Traverse serves on the City Council’s Charter Change Committee. He says the idea will likely be up to voters to decide next Town Meeting Day.
“If the committee votes this out — which I anticipate it will — it will be heard before the full council and then ultimately is a matter that will be on the ballot in March,” he told the Ward 1 Neighborhood Planning Assembly Wednesday night.
Non-citizen voting has gone to the ballot in the Queen City once before. Burlingtonians voted it down in 2015.
“Since then, both Montpelier and Winooski have been able to stand up non-citizen voting with quite a bit of success,” Traverse said.
He noted that dozens of people in Winooski who wouldn’t otherwise have been eligible to vote registered to do so before Town Meeting Day in the Onion City six months ago.
“Nearly all those individuals who registered to vote came out and voted in their last election,” Traverse said. “So, that’s a very promising sign.”
Sharon Bushor represented Ward 1 on the Burlington City Council for more than 30 years. She wanted to know how well the Charter Change Committee has been working its way around a recent stumbling block regarding this issue.
“It was Councilor (Adam) Roof who was going to move this (to the full council) in 2020 and then pulled it because there was some criticism that the community wasn’t well informed about this,” Bushor said. “Can you give us a synopsis of what you’ve gleaned from the community?”
Traverse says what he’s gleaned from the non-citizen community has been quite positive. He’s also learned of potential problems, some of which can be found on Vermont’s state voter registration form.
“You’re required to enter a driver’s license or personal ID number — or, if you don’t have a driver’s license, you’re required to enter a Social Security number,” he said. “Of course, if you’re not a U.S. citizen, you wouldn’t have a Social Security number. Those are the logistics that we’re working with the City Clerk’s office to figure out.”
The Charter Change Committee has set up a website for its non-citizen voting proposal. You can find it by clicking here.
Federal law requires voters in state-level and federal elections to be U.S. citizens. Local-level elections have no such requirement. Both Montpelier and Winooski have been sued regarding their decisions to allow non-citizens to vote at the municipal level. The lawsuits have both been dismissed.
Should a Queen City non-citizen voting ballot measure pass, Vermont lawmakers and Gov. Phil Scott would also both need to weigh in on the issue. The governor struck down both Montpelier’s and Winooski’s non-citizen voting measures, but the legislature overrode both vetoes.