Tale of two cities, and non-citizen voting

By Rob Roper

This year, the Vermont legislature is contemplating charter changes in two Vermont cities, Montpelier and Winooski (in photo above), that would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. The Montpelier charter change passed the House with little difficulty, 103-39. One expected Winooski, with this precedent set, to sail through as well. But it didn’t. There’s a catch – one that should also inspire some second thoughts about Montpelier as that bill goes to the Senate.

The Vermont Constitution states regarding a voter’s qualifications, “Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the following oath or affirmation, shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state….” (Emphasis added).

This means, or at least is being interpreted to mean, municipal elections are not covered by the citizenship requirement being separate from “state” matters. And here’s the catch: We in Vermont have a state property tax to fund education, in which local decisions in one municipality impact the taxes paid in other municipalities. Ergo, non-citizens are, or should be, constitutionally barred from voting on school budgets.

The city municipality that is Montpelier happens to be part of a larger municipality that is the Montpelier Roxbury School District. Non-citizens voting in the city of Montpelier municipal elections would not get a ballot with school budget matters on it, so no problem. But Winooski the city and the Winooski School District are the same thing, so non-citizens voting in Winooski would get ballots dealing with school board matters – and that appears to be a no-no.

Debate over this technicality on the virtual House floor led several legislators who voted in favor of the Montpelier charter change to express an unwillingness to also vote for the Winooski charter change. The debate also led to discussions of whether or not municipal votes on things like road maintenance that could impact state spending should also be considered in regard to the state constitutional provision. At the end of all this debate the Winooski charter change bill was pulled from the floor and sent to the House Education Committee for further review.

So, here are a couple of observations.

First, the Vermont Constitution is clear that voting is a right of citizenship. That Vermont is a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning the municipalities are a creation of and subject to direction of the state (hence the need for this charter change legislation) one would think that the state constitution would be binding on municipalities. I’m not a lawyer, but this seems obvious to me.

Second, if we grant for the sake of argument that the Constitution would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, it seems arbitrary and unfair that non-citizens living in town/city municipalities that share boundaries with school district municipalities would be barred from voting on local issues, while those who happen to live in town/city municipalities that don’t align directly with their school districts could vote on local issues. This is a can of worms that, quite frankly, should not be opened.

United States citizenship comes with responsibilities, such as the potential for compulsory military service, as well as rights, such as voting. While we welcome legal immigrants to our nation and our state, and encourage them to pursue citizenship through the legal process, the right to vote should remain an incentive to pursue citizenship and a reward for doing so. As my grandmother used to warn, why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

Categories: Legislation

11 replies »

  1. VOTING, IS A RIGHT OF CITIZENS ONLY! Allowing NON-citizen to Vote, DILUTES my VOTE when NON – citizens are allowed to cast a VOTE.

  2. Even if we set aside historic precedent, that voting has always been reserved only to legal citizens of age in each of the United States, including Vermont, it seems to me the Vermont Constitution doesn’t grant municipalities any permission to deviate from the relevant requirements listed in the second paragraph.

  3. Wow If my Dad were still alive he’d probably wonder why he went to Europe to fight, if 70 years later we would be seriously talking about allowing foreigners the right to vote here. Why not, in the spirit of modern elections, just MAIL Xi Jinping, that little round guy in North Korea, an Ayatollah or two, and Vladimir Putin ballots ? After all, they aren’t Americans either .

  4. I don’t want to sound like a know it all or be nasty but,non resident voting is illegal and unconstitutional!!So someone please tell me how this can be allowed to happen?!If it is allowed it is tyranny and wipes away hundreds of years of law and order!!This also means if our governments don’t keep the law,there is no law!!

  5. This is just one more glaring example of liberal insanity. 16-year-olds get to vote? Are you serious? They are minors still in school and under the control of majority leftist teachers who propagandize them every day. Parents should be outraged. They don’t have full-time jobs and pay adult taxes or bear adult responsibilities like being able to buy a home or rent an apartment or marry, nor should they. This ability to vote is the right of ADULTS. Perhaps we should also consider allowing 16-year-olds to drink and smoke pot legally, and enlist in the military. Also, do away with the juvenile justice category for anyone 16 or older. And allowing non-citizens to vote in ANY election, even at the local level, diminishes the worth of citizenship for those who are citizens. This is nothing more than an attempt by Democrats to reach anywhere they can for consolidation of power: non-citizen voting and youth voting. This is what Socialism looks like. What’s next, pray tell, on their anti-American agenda?

    • Ms. Trudell, “socialism” is not synonomous with Marxism. What is going on in VT is an agenda hidden in plain sight. The elements are complex and some are concealed from the public. It’s even worse than it appears.

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