Vermont Senate okays noncitizens voting in capital city's elections

Noncitizens who reside in Vermont's capital city Montpelier are now one step closer to being able to vote in certain local elections after the state Senate approved such a measure on Tuesday.

"I believe if someone wishes to be able to vote they should be a citizen," Vermont state Sen. Brian Collamore told Fox News in an interview. "The Montpelier bill allows what is defined as a legal resident of the United States to be able to vote in city elections. ... If someone is here on a permanent basis, why would he or she not want to participate in the process to become a citizen?"

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Democrats in two Vermont towns are pushing for noncitizens to be allowed to vote in certain elections but must seek approval from state lawmakers first. The Vermont House of Representatives approved the changes earlier this year.

"All resident (or non-citizen) voting in local elections has failed to make it to the floor twice before in the #VT Senate. Today it passed in the #Montpelier Charter on a vote of 21-9. A step forward for inclusive democracy," Vermont state Sen. Kesha Ram wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Voters in the small city of Winooski, which has one of the highest concentrations of new Americans and immigrants in Vermont, have decided to allow noncitizens the right to vote in local elections.

According to the city’s website, the proposal permits a Winooski resident who isn’t a U.S. citizen but is in the country under a "federally sanctioned legal category" such as a permanent resident visa to be eligible to vote in local elections, such as city and school elections, but not state and federal races, the newspaper reported.

The Vermont State House, located in Montpelier, Vermont at dusk. Montpelier is a city in the U.S. state of Vermont that serves as the state capital. Montpelier has the distinction of being the smallest state capital in the United States.

The Vermont State House, located in Montpelier, Vermont at dusk. Montpelier is a city in the U.S. state of Vermont that serves as the state capital. Montpelier has the distinction of being the smallest state capital in the United States.

The city says population data from 2017 suggested that 10% of residents of voting age, 618, were not U.S. citizens and that 8% or 472 residents were naturalized, becoming U.S. citizens.

Winoooski followed the lead of Montpelier, which voted to change its charter to allow noncitizen voting in 2018 but has yet to gain final approval.

"Our community spoke, and spoke well — 2 1/2 to 1," Winooski Deputy Mayor Hal Colston, who’s also a Democrat representative in the Vermont House, said last year. "Given that we’re the most diverse city in northern New England, the time has come for this kind of legislation so that we have so many more voices in our democratic process. We’re at a loss if we don’t experience the full diversity of our communities and how we need to do things."

The decision could start a trend for other towns in the state, Republican Vermont state Rep. Rob LaClair told Fox News in an interview.

"Clearly, I voted against it. I’ve got a lot of concerns," LaClair told Fox News. "We’re all about inclusion. Let’s do it the right way. Let’s do it by the rules."

The Democratic-majority Vermont House approved Montpelier's amended charter 103-39 on March 10 and Winooski's amended charter 99 to 44 on April 1.

"Our legislature is very heavily Democratic," LaClair said. "Now these folks are going to be able to weigh in on school budgets theoretically, They could pass a school budget we’re all going to wind up having to pay for."

LaClair said he didn't anticipate Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, vetoing the charter changes that would allow noncitizens to vote.

"I have had conversations with him and he is certainly not in favor of it, allowing noncitizens to vote," LaClair said. "He’ll probably let it pass into law but without his signature."

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LaClair said the amended charters discourage people from becoming citizens, citing the example of a Norwegian citizen living in Montpelier.

"We had this person come in and say they had lived in Montpelier 17 years and as a citizen of Norway weren’t allowed to vote," he said. "They casually left out that in the U.S. you can have dual citizenship, so this person could have applied to become a U.S. citizen. ... Where the issue came for her is Norway doesn't recognize U.S. citizenship."

Fox News' inquiry to Scott's office was not returned at the time of publication.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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