Chase McGuire, Community News Service
Winooski has followed in Montpelier’s footsteps in proposing a charter change that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. If the measure is passed, the proposal would have to be approved by lawmakers — who have stalled a similar measure passed by Montpelier voters.
Senate lawmakers delayed approval of Montpelier’s charter change after it passed the House during the 2019 session. Senator Dick Mazza, quoted by VPR at the time, said that while there wasn’t necessarily opposition, the Senate had little time to vet the “controversial” proposal.
Montpelier officials argued that the measure is popular, as it was passed by city voters on a two-to-one majority. Senators remained less enthusiastic.
“There was enough opposition that I chose to not bring it out on the floor to be defeated,” said Senator Jeanette White of the Montpelier proposal, who chairs the Senate Government Operations committee. “Do you want to bring something like that out of your committee if you know that there’s going to be a lot of opposition, and it will fail on the floor? Or do you want to just leave it there (in the committee)?”
“Sometimes it is better to have no vote, than a ‘No’ Vote,” White said.
The approval process for Winooski’s possible measure would start earliest in January, when the legislature reconvenes. The upcoming election season means that there will likely be new faces in the Vermont government.
If the vote passes, and Winooski citizens vote in favor of the charter change, the measure will follow the same path as Monpelier’s proposal.
“First someone has to introduce the charter change to one of the representatives from the area,” White said.
“Then the charter change is drafted into statute and it starts in the House, with the House Government Operations Committee and they take testimony on it… if it passes the House Committee on Government Operations, it goes to the full house, if it passes there it goes to the Senate”
“There are constitutional issues that people have concerns about, and will have concerns about,” Senator Alison Clarkson, who sits on the senate government operations committee.
During discussions last year, constitutional law professors pointed out that Montpelier’s non-citizen voter measure would be constitutional, and that for over 100 years, non-citizens were able to vote at town meeting.
“As a matter of constitutional law and historic practice, there should be no reason not to approve Montpelier’s proposal on non-citizen voters,” wrote Paul Gilles, an attorney and writer, to the House government operations committee.
Vermont Law School constitutional law professor Peter Teachout also gave written testimony to the committee at the time, saying that the legislature may approve non-citizen voting in local elections.
“Voting is a right that people treasure, and it’s not given away lightly.” Senator Clarkson said that she, like many other senators, is open and ready for this discussion when the time comes.
[Editor’s note: According to Ballotpedia, “four arguments against allowing noncitizens to vote are that people should accept the duties of citizenship before being allowed to vote, that prohibiting noncitizens from voting is not discriminatory, that allowing noncitizens to vote would discourage them from seeking citizenship, and that allowing them to vote would not benefit society as a whole.”]
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