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Rep. Mulvaney-Stanak Response to Governor's Veto of All Resident Voting Charter

From "Scott vetoes noncitizen voting for Burlington, but lawmakers plan override" by Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Public, May 30, 2023.

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed legislation that would have allowed non-U.S. citizens to vote in municipal elections in Burlington, but Democratic and Progressive leaders in the Legislature say they intend to enact the measure into law later this month despite the Republican governor’s objections.

Voters in Burlington approved a Town Meeting Day charter change earlier this year that expanded the definition of “legal voter” to include any “noncitizen who resides on a permanent or indefinite basis in compliance with federal immigration laws.”

Burlington Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, leader of the House Progressive Caucus, said overwhelming support for the ballot measure reflected the “vibrantly diverse” demographics of Vermont’s largest city.

“We have a lot more immigrants and refugees, folks who’ve come here who don’t hold U.S. citizenship status, and they’ve been here for years,” Mulvaney-Stanak said Tuesday. “And it is a great way to really allow people to fully engage in their communities, to weigh in on how schools are being run that their children are going to.”

Municipal charter changes in Vermont require approval from the General Assembly. And while both the House and Senate approved legislation earlier this month that would have allowed the charter change to go into effect before Burlington’s next local election, Scott vetoed the measure on Saturday.

Scott said he isn’t opposed to the charter change in concept.

“I am happy to see legal residents who are non-citizens calling Vermont home and participating in the issues affecting their communities,” Scott said in his veto message.

But a patchwork of voting rules that enfranchise noncitizens in some towns, and deny them access to the ballot box in others, Scott said, “creates separate and unequal classes of legal residents potentially eligible to vote on local voting issues.”

“The fundamentals of voting should be universal and implemented statewide,” he said.

It isn’t the first time Scott has registered that concern. The governor vetoed two bills in 2021 that would allow noncitizen voting in Winooski and Montpelier.

The Legislature overrode both those vetoes. And while the Vermont Republican Party and Republican National Committee later challenged the constitutionality of the charter changes, the Vermont Supreme Court ultimately found that voter qualifications in the Vermont Constitution speak only to statewide elections.

The charter changes in Winooski, Montpelier and now Burlington do not allow noncitizens to vote in statewide or federal elections.

Mulvaney-Stanak said Scott’s concerns about voter equity ring hollow.

“It’s always a struggle for me to hear the governor, or any leader, sort of twist the word equity in support of their own argument, because what truly equity is about is providing access to folks and making sure that folks are able to access the resources and do better in life … based on things that have systemically disadvantaged them or disempowered them,” she said. “And voting access and the ability to engage in democracy is a classic issue where … racism and other structural barriers have prevented people from engaging in voting.”

Postponing noncitizen voting until Vermont has a statewide law in place could take years, Mulvaney-Stanak said. Delaying “access to democracy” in the meantime, she said, “is the opposite message we should be sending to folks who are choosing to locate here in Vermont.”

“We want to welcome them, we want to be an inclusive state, and this is a very important step in that process,” she said.

The noncitizen voting legislation passed both the House and Senate by more than the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor. And House Speaker Jill Krowinski said Tuesday she’s confident the Legislature will enact the measure into law when it convenes its veto override session on June 20.

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