Burlington City Council passes proposal to let noncitizens vote

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The Burlington City Council has passed a resolution that seeks to let noncitizens vote in the city’s elections.

On Monday, councilors voted 10-2 in favor of the resolution written by Adam Roof, I-Burlington City Council. He argues that since everyone in Burlington is impacted by decisions made by the local government, they should get a say in what goes on in the city.

Roof’s resolution pushes the City Council to encourage all community members to actively participate in Burlington’s democracy. He states all citizens' votes should matter since all citizens live here and pay taxes. His resolution also argues that denying suffrage to noncitizens goes against the city of Burlington's values. He says the resolution aligns with the primary goal of the Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan, which the council unanimously supported in 2014.

“The main goal of the city’s Diversity and Equity Strategic Plan from 2014 is to create a more inclusive and engaged community, which is critical because we know that broad participation in the democratic process strengthens the entirety of the community,” said Roof.

In a statement to WCAX, Roof wrote, “The right to vote is more important now than ever before. All residents have the right, in my eyes, to participate in the local democratic process, and the highest level of participation in that process is being able to cast your vote. To that end, I am pushing to expand voting rights in Burlington to all residents of the city in order to lower the barrier to participation and build a more inclusive community. The city is in a position to look at this issue again and hopefully have a different outcome on the ballot in March.“

Only one person spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting. He told councilors he disapproves of the resolution and accused them of political pandering.

"We have 40,000-plus registered voters. How many of those are nonresident college students who vote on our property taxes, our legislators, our city leadership, which includes all of you, and much more, and then move away?" he asked councilors.

On Sunday, WCAX News asked people on Church Street what they think of the resolution. Most of them said they support it.

“I’m definitely of the opinion that noncitizens should totally be allowed to vote,” said Victor Curtis, a college student. “Just making sure that everyone has a voice no matter where you come from or your background.”

Ranjan Bangari Lokappa, who is not a citizen, agreed.

“Even though I am not a citizen, I live here and my opinion should be considered is what I believe,” he said.

Councilors Paulino, Hanson, Freeman and Bushor were some of the council members who expressed their support for the resolution.

“It’s a great conversation to be having right now. It brings more people to the table,” said Paulino.

Council President Kurt Wright was one of two councilors to vote against it. He said he believes the right to vote should be reserved for American citizens.

“I think that’s important. I would not expect to move to another country and not become a citizen and expect to be voting in their elections,” said Wright, R-Burlington City Council. “We voted on this just a few years ago and the citizens of Burlington voted significantly against it so I’m not supportive of this proposal.”

The proposal now heads to the Charter Change Committee which could add an amendment to the city’s charter, but it would need ultimate approval from the Legislature.

A similar measure passed by voters in Montpelier cleared the House last session but stalled in the Senate. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, has said he is not sold on the idea, saying it might violate a state law that prevents any database of noncitizens.