Montpelier explores idea of allowing non-US citizens to vote

Published: Apr. 9, 2018 at 4:01 PM EDT
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The city of Montpelier may consider allowing non-U.S. citizens to vote in city elections. After fielding questions about why legal residents who aren't citizens can't vote, City Clerk John Odum says he's planning a public meeting on the issue next week.

The U.S. and state constitutions are clear -- only U.S. citizens can vote in federal and state elections, so City Clerk John Odum has always dismissed inquiries about allowing non-citizens to cast ballots.

"My reaction was always like -- I was very polite -- but it was like they were asking me a ridiculous question, like 'why can't we paint city hall pink, or something?'" Odum said. Amending either constitution isn't likely. "But there is wiggle room there for the municipal level."

After learning that Chicago, San Francisco and parts of Maryland allow it in some local races, Odum says Montpelier should talk about it. "I've changed my perception about what's possible, and if it's possible, why not talk about it?" he said.

A public meeting will be held Wednesday, April 18, to gauge interest and determine if the discussion should go on. "If everybody that comes out to talk about it says we're not interested, we don't want this in our community, then that's probably as far as we go," Odum said.

Secretary of State Jim Condos says state lawmakers would need to approve any action taken. "Either a statute change or a charter change, and in both cases the Legislature would have to take that action," Condos said. He says lawmakers will have to give serious thought to the idea. "I would say that it's possible. I'm not sure that it's probable."

Rob Roper of the conservative Ethan Allen Institute says it shouldn't be allowed. He says non-U.S. citizens shouldn't be considered permanent residents or legal voters. "The question we have is do we want people who are not living in those communities as permanent, primary residents influencing the outcome of elections for people who do live there as permanent, primary residents," Roper said.

Very few people will benefit from the change in Montpelier. "We are talking about an accommodation for a very small amount of people," Odum said. He says asking for the change will address a basic question. "The deeper question is, do we get to decide as a community what we consider to be a citizen of our city?"

The 2020 Town Meeting Day election is the earliest election in which the change could take place, but local voters could weigh in by next March on whether to seek legislative approval.