Noncitizen voting proposal returns to Burlington City Council over concerns

Published: Dec. 10, 2019 at 12:13 AM EST
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Part of a proposal to let noncitizens vote in Burlington elections is raising eyebrows among city leaders.

The Burlington City Council will get to take another look at the proposal after the charter change committee came up with new questions at Monday’s meeting. The concerns were regarding a list that would be created in the event that noncitizen voting is legalized. All noncitizen voters’ names would be on it. Some committee members worry the list will have negative and unintended consequences for noncitizen voters.

Adam Roof, I-Burlington City Council, says the city is weighing the options.

“That does open the potential of folks knowing who are legal but not citizens in our community. If there is a way around that we want to seek that out, but with talking to community partners, through our city attorney,” said Roof. “We’ve taken into account, we've vetted it, we've talked to folks who could be potentially impacted by it. It's reasonable to move on at this point, but those conversations should and must continue."

The list would be public and would be separate from the list of U.S. citizen voters.

City Attorney Eileen Blackwood says that’s because unlike citizens, noncitizens cannot vote in state and federal elections.

“Those folks who are noncitizens but are legal residents of the United States would then be able to come to register to vote, but we would have to keep a separate list of them that would be at the polling place, so when they show up, the folks that are checking people in would have that list to check against,” Blackwood explained. “In November, there will be an election that will include state and federal officials and if there were local issues that came up— say, a special election for a school commissioner or something— they could vote on that. Otherwise, it would be in March."

At Monday’s Charter Change Committee meeting, Franklin Paulino, D-Burlington City Council, asked if the list would be available for ICE and other government agencies to see.

Blackwood said yes but she added that the list would not reveal any information that the federal government wouldn’t already have at that point.

“The folks that would be registering and on this list would be legal residents, meaning they have gone through the Federal Immigration Authority,” Blackwood told WCAX News. “The Federal Immigration Authority knows where they live because they have registered to be a resident.”

The City Council will take a final vote on the matter on Dec. 16. If the resolution gets a majority vote, it will be put on the March 2020 ballot for voters to decide. If the City Council and Burlington voters approve noncitizen voting, the resolution will then head to the state Legislature and will have to go through both the House and the Senate. It will ultimately need to be signed by Gov. Phil Scott.