The Burlington City Council passed a resolution Monday that asks members of the charter change committee to consider expanding voting rights to noncitizens.
The measure passed 10-2 with Council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) and Councilor Ali Dieng (D/P-Ward 7) voting no.
Councilor Adam Roof (I-Ward 8) introduced the resolution in part to increase civic participation among Burlington's sizable refugee population. He said the issue is timely because the legislature will consider a similar charter change request for the city of Montpelier once lawmakers reconvene next year.
“It is my hope Burlington can be at the table while they do so,” Roof said.
It's not Burlington's first attempt to make the change. Voters considered the issue on Town Meeting Day 2015 but shot it down, 58 to 42 percent. Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District) said times have changed since then, and though she’s unsure how she’ll vote, she supports the committee taking another look.
Councilor Franklin Paulino (D-North District), whose mother was born outside of the U.S., called himself “a product of legal immigration.” He supports noncitizen voting because “it’s about equality and bringing more people to the table,” he said.
Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1) echoed Paulino’s sentiment, saying that as Burlington’s population has become more diverse, “more and more people really want to have a meaningful engagement” in city government.
Councilor Jack Hanson (P-East District) said that if people live here and pay taxes, “you deserve to have a say over the policies that influence your life.”
Dieng, a New American, opposed the resolution because he said voting is sacred and should be reserved only for citizens. He echoed thoughts shared by Burlington resident Jeff Comstock, who said during the meeting's public comment period that the council should instead focus on increasing turnout among legally registered voters. Comstock had derided Roof’s resolution as “nothing more than political pandering.”
Dieng suggested the city instead help noncitizens find a path to legal citizenship.
The charter committee is expected to report back to the council by the end of November. Roof hopes the measure can be included on the Town Meeting ballot in March.