Vermont Supreme Court rules in favor of cities allowing noncitizens to vote

Noncitizen residents may continue to vote in municipal elections in Vermont’s capital city of Montpelier, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday, stating that such voting in local elections doesn’t violate the state constitution.

In its decision on an appeal the higher court upheld a lower court ruling, dismissing the claim.

“The statute allowing noncitizens to vote in local Montpelier elections does not violate Chapter II, ? 42 because that constitutional provision does not apply to local elections,” the Supreme Court wrote.

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In 2021, the Democrat-controlled Vermont Legislature approved two separate bills to change the municipal charters of Montpelier and Winooski, the most diverse community in the state, to allow legal residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. Republican Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the measures but the Legislature overrode his vetoes.

A ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court upheld two cities’ statutes allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections.

The Republican National Committee filed lawsuits against the two Vermont cities asking judges to declare noncitizen voting unconstitutional and lost those challenges. Federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections, including races for president, vice president, Senate or House of Representatives.

Montpelier and Winooski are among more than a dozen communities in a handful of states — including New York City, and a number of towns in Maryland — that allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. Seven states, including Ohio, have measures banning noncitizen voting in local elections, according to the group Americans for Citizen Voting.

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Voting was expanded to noncitizens in the two Vermont communities after local voters approved the moves, proponents said.

In November of 2018, voters in Montpelier, a city of about 8,000 residents, approved seeking a charter change to allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections. Voters supported the measure by nearly a two-to-one margin, said Montpelier City Council President Jack McCullough. The city currently has nine registered noncitizen voters, according to the city manager.

“We are gratified that our choice to welcome participation by all members of our community has been upheld by the Supreme Court,” McCullough said in a statement. “Our Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and I believe that includes all our residents. I hope this will encourage more eligible voters to register, vote, and fully participate in our democratic institutions.”

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In Winooski, a city of about 7,300 that is home to immigrants from around the world, 55 noncitizens voted on local issues during the state’s annual Town Meeting Day in March 2022.