Should Burlington let noncitizens vote in local elections?

Published: Oct. 6, 2019 at 8:05 PM EDT
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One Burlington city councilor is pushing to grant noncitizens the right to vote in the city's local elections.

Independent Councilor Adam Roof drafted a resolution calling for the expansion of voting rights that will be discussed at Monday's City Council meeting.

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.“

Roof makes the argument that everyone who lives in Burlington, regardless of citizenship status, is impacted by decisions made by the local government, therefore, they should have a say in what goes on in their city.

WCAX News asked people on Church Street what they think.

“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.

Roof is pushing for the question to be added to the March 2020 ballot but it has to pass the council first, and not everyone is on board. Council President Kurt Wright says he will not be voting yes on the proposal. He believes the right to vote is 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,” Wright said. “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.”

If the proposal passes the City Council, the charter change would need 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.