GOP lawsuit says noncitizen voting violates Vermont Constitution
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A move to give noncitizens a say in local government in two Vermont cities is facing a legal challenge from the Republican Party.
Recent charter changes approved by the Legislature allow noncitizens who are residents of Montpelier and Winooski to vote in local elections.
“We stand behind the voters of Montpelier that this was an important topic for them and it’s about representation in the democratic process,” Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson said.
But lawsuits filed by the Republican National Committee and the Vermont Republican Party say the charter changes are void and invalid because they violate section 42 of the Vermont Constitution, which says voters must be citizens.
Jared Carter, a constitutional law professor at the Vermont Law School, read the complaints and disagrees.
“What Montpelier, what Winooski and ultimately what the Vermont Legislature has done is completely within the bounds of the Vermont Constitution,” Carter said.
Carter says Vermont is a “Dillon’s Rule” state, which means cities and towns can get permission from the state to change ordinances and laws.
“That’s what happened here. Montpelier and Winooski passed these laws and ordinances and my understanding is the state Legislature agreed to them and that’s the end of story,” Carter said.
In Montpelier, Mayor Watson says they have yet to see any papers regarding this lawsuit but she is confident in the process that has authorized noncitizen residents to vote.
“We went through all the proper channels to get our charter amended and we’re feeling confident about that,” Watson said.
I reached out to the legal team supporting this complaint, who said they did not have a comment past the complaint itself.
On Wednesday, Mayor Kristine Lott told WCAX in a statement that she believes they still have not been served -- but has reviewed the lawsuit online.
“More than 2/3 of Winooski voters supported this change, which I believe is an important step in improving equity in our community. This charter change would give an elevated voice to a tenth of our residents who send their kids to our schools, pay their taxes, create economic opportunities, and enrich Winooski’s cultural and social fabric. There is no reason to expect residents to contribute without representation in our local elections. Many residents spend years living in Winooski while their path to citizenship is lengthy, expensive, and full of barriers,” Lott said.
“I am disappointed by this lawsuit, but more importantly, I remain proud of the work that has gone into this process by our voters, commissioners, councilors, and representatives. While the cities of Winooski and Montpelier are directly named in these lawsuits, it is worth pointing out that the State Legislature supported and approved our charter change. The State of Vermont made the legally binding amendment to our charter and in the end, the Supreme Court of Vermont may well have to weigh in. Should that happen and our charter change stands, I hope it inspires our neighboring municipalities to join us in expanding local voting rights to all of our residents,” Lott said.
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