Winooski, Montpelier gear up for first noncitizen voting

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 5:41 PM EST
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - As Town Meeting Day approaches, noncitizen residents of Winooski and Montpelier will be able to cast a ballot on local issues for the very first time. After overriding a veto from Gov. Phil Scott last year, lawmakers signed off on charter changes approved by the two communities, paving the way for the new voters.

Julienne Mugisha moved to Winooski from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018. The Winooski resident is registered to vote and spoke to us through an interpreter. She says she’s excited that this door is now open for her and other people who are not noncitizens and that it feels incredible to be able to vote for leaders and have support from the community.

Mugisha is one of just eight people who aren’t yet citizens but have registered to vote in Winooski so far. The city has an ongoing outreach program, including ballots in several different languages, to attract more people to register.

Mayor Kristine Lott says this is a step towards meeting all of the community’s needs. “I think it pushes us to keep thinking about how we do engage our community and how we make sure everyone has the information they need to make informed decisions,” she said.

More than two-thirds of Winooski voters approved noncitizen voting. However, the Vermont GOP has filed a lawsuit saying that it violates the Vermont Constitution.

“This is exciting unchartered territory,” said Irene Webster, a case manager at the Association of Africans Living in Vermont and who is also running for the Winooski City Council. She says that there needs to be more outreach and education but that this is an important step to allow minorities and new Americans to be a part of the community. “People who are empowered to vote and feel part of a group is important so they have a voice and they understand the things that they are voting for. It makes them feel that they have a voice to be part of that community.”

In Montpelier, only one noncitizen has registered to vote but unlike Winooski, City Clerk John Odum says they are not doing any outreach. “I’m proud of my community for stepping up and so overwhelmingly approving it and welcoming all our neighbors into the process of deciding how our comunity should be run,” Odum said.

Meanwhile, Mugisha’s fourth-grade son says that he really hopes to one day be able to vote too.

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