Burlington Councilors Pass Non-Citizen Voting Resolution

Oct 10, 2019

At its meeting this week, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution that would allow non-citizens to vote in city elections.

The resolution to Expand Voting Rights in Municipal Elections says everyone who lives in Burlington is impacted by the decisions made by government officials and asks Burlington’s Charter Change Committee to “…consider an amendment to the City Charter that would expand the right to vote in all Burlington general and special municipal elections to all residents of Burlington, regardless of citizenship status…”   

The committee must report back to the council by mid-November so that any change could be placed on the March 2020 Town Meeting Day ballot.  The measure is sponsored by Ward 8 Independent Adam Roof.  “In addition to actions such as extending the time period for early voting or investing in voter education, opening up the opportunity to vote on local issues to more Burlington residents is a viable way to lower barriers to our democratic process. And I believe there is a way to accomplish this expansion of voter rights while remaining in line with the rule of law. I want to also note that this is a complex issue as it intersects with dynamics related to Constitutional law, international human rights standards, immigration law, Supreme Court rulings, state rights as well as complexities in administering our elections here with city staff.”

During public comments, Ward 7 resident Jeff Comstock called it a bad idea.  “The resolution states that approximately 3200 Burlington residents are ineligible to vote because they are refugees not yet eligible for U.S. citizenship. Not yet eligible really has nothing to do with it. They simply are not U.S. citizens. There is a path to citizenship for a reason and the right to vote is one of the most valuable prizes.”

North District Democrat Franklin Paulino recounted his immigrant mother’s experiences as he expressed support.  “I am myself a product of legal immigration. I came here because my mother married a U.S. citizen.  I often think about my life, what it would be like if I had remained in a third-world country. This resolution’s about equality. It’s about bringing more people to the table and exploring ways of allowing legal permanent residents and others who pay taxes here, who live here to come to public forum and to hold us accountable.”

Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Ali Dieng, an immigrant from Mauritania, opposed the resolution.  “I think around this table maybe I be the only person who became citizen and not long ago and the only thing that I was looking for is to vote. And I think I went beyond that and I also sat here.  I think it is important to understand that voting is sacred to me. It is sacred because you have a voice. You part of this community. And I think we are talking about giving a person when you become a citizen this is your right. You take a pledge. You want to become a citizen of this country. You can die for this country. I became a citizen. Voting is sacred and let’s help people’s pathway to citizenship. I’m not voting for this.”
 
The resolution passed 10 to 2 with Dieng and Ward 4 Republican Kurt Wright opposing it.

If the resolution is placed on the Burlington ballot and passed by city voters it would then have to be approved by the state legislature.

According to VT Digger, during his weekly press conference, Vermont Governor Phil Scott expressed disapproval, likening the proposal to allowing businesses to vote since they too are impacted by government decisions. The Republican said that the focus should rather be on increasing the participation of registered voters.