Burlington City Councilor Revives Noncitizen Voting Debate | Off Message

Burlington City Councilor Revives Noncitizen Voting Debate


  • Sue Norton
The Burlington City Council on Monday will consider a resolution that would revive the issue of noncitizen voting in local elections.

Councilor Adam Roof (I-Ward 8) sponsored the measure, which asks the city's Charter Change Committee to consider expanding the right to vote to "all citizens of Burlington, regardless of citizenship status." The resolution requests the committee report back to the council by the end of November. If the council approves it, voters could weigh in on Town Meeting Day in March 2020, Roof said.

"All residents have the right, in my eyes, to participate in a democratic process, and the highest level of participation in that process is being able to cast your vote," he said.

It wouldn't be the first time Burlingtonians considered the question. In 2015, voters shot down a noncitizen voting measure, 58 to 42 percent. That same year, a 55 percent majority rejected another ballot item that would have allowed noncitizens to serve on city boards and as department heads. Both of those efforts are listed as goals in the city's 2014 Diversity & Equity Strategic Plan.
According to that report, 3,200 Burlington residents were ineligible to vote in local elections due to their citizenship status, a fact Roof cited in his resolution.

The issue has proven controversial in other communities. In 2018, the Winooski City Council voted 3-2 against putting a noncitizen voting question on the ballot. It was a notable defeat in Vermont's most diverse city, which boasts the state's only majority-minority student population.
Also in 2018, Montpelier became the first Vermont city to approve noncitizen voting — by a two-to-one margin, to boot. But the issue was stymied by the legislature, which has to approve all municipal charter changes. The House passed it earlier this year, but the Senate punted the question until the next session, according to Vermont Public Radio.

Roof doesn't expect much controversy at Monday's council meeting and thinks other councilors will sign on as cosponsors. But he said he's prepared for the ensuing debate if the charter committee recommends putting a question to voters. Roof, who was running his first city council campaign when the measure failed in 2015, said he's prepared to lobby for it in Burlington and Montpelier.

"If you're paying into the tax base, if your kids are in the schools, if you’re part of the fabric of the community, I think it’s at the very least worthwhile of having the conversation," he said, adding, "I think the city’s in a position to look at this from a different perspective and hopefully have a different outcome on the ballot."

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