At a time when our state should be sending a welcoming message to refugees coming here from Afghanistan, we instead find ourselves fighting over democratic rights for the very people who might be coming here to live.

Two lawsuits were filed in Vermont courts this week by the Republican National Committee, suing the cities of Montpelier and Winooski for allowing non-citizens to vote on local issues in their communities.

The RNC is joined in the lawsuit by the Vermont Republican Party and several concerned Vermont voters. The lawsuit also raises “concerns about how the laws will be implemented and whether noncitizens will end up on the same voter registration lists used for state-level and federal elections,” according to a release issued by the RNC.

Ultimately, the lawsuits ask judges to declare noncitizen voting unconstitutional.

The RNC statement: “This radical scheme passed by Vermont Democrats, to allow foreign citizens to decide American elections is a blatant attack on election integrity as it violates the state constitution, which requires Vermont voters to be U.S. citizens.”

“Democrats are trying to dismantle the integrity of our elections, said RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, in the statement. “In addition to attacking widely supported safeguards like voter ID, Democrats want foreign citizens to vote in American elections. Republicans are fighting back on this far-left assault against election integrity — unlike radical Democrats, we believe that our elections should be decided solely by American citizens. This is a matter of principle, and we will fight in all 50 states to ensure this remains the case.”

“The Vermont Constitution requires U.S. citizenship as a qualification of voting,” said both lawsuits, written by Republican attorney Brady Toensing.

Last November, 70% of voters in Winooski — considered to be one of the most diverse cities in northern New England — authorized noncitizens to vote in local elections if they were in the U.S. legally. In 2019, the city of Montpelier passed a similar measure, with nearly 65% of the vote.

Earlier this year the Legislature approved changes to the charters of the two communities allowing noncitizen voting. The initial bills were vetoed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, but both vetoes were overturned by the Legislature.

At the time, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale said, “This change is about giving everyone a meaningful voice on the decisions being made in their own community. Citizenship status should not determine an individual’s ability to have a say in the needs of their kids, their local schools and the future of their communities where they pay taxes. This lawsuit is yet another attempt to maintain political control and silence the voices of marginalized communities, under the guise of maintaining ‘election integrity.’”

According to an article published by VTDigger on Tuesday, the legal debate appears to hinge on whether the Legislature actually can decide who participates in local elections or whether the Vermont Constitution restricts the franchise to U.S. citizens.

According to VTDigger, the lawsuits argue that Article 42 of the state constitution declares who can and cannot vote in local elections when it states, “Every person of the full age of 18 years who is a citizen of the United States … shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state.”

That section of the constitution refers to a person’s ability to vote in state elections, not local ones, the VTDigger article goes on to say.

At the time of the veto, the governor said noncitizen voting was an important issue that deserved further consideration but said a town-by-town approach to municipal voting creates inconsistency in election policy. According to the Associated Press, Scott reiterated that position on Tuesday when asked about the lawsuits during his weekly news conference.

“We can’t do this piecemeal because the approach that Winooski took was different from the approach that Montpelier had taken so we just need it all the same so there is no confusion,” Scott said.

Proponents say noncitizen voting was expanded after being approved by the people in the communities.

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum pointed out that since noncitizen voting was approved by the Legislature any changes would have to be made by the Legislature. “I am not sure what is to be gained by suing the cities, the charters are now the law,” Odum told the AP.

Clearly, the lawsuits are misdirected and misguided. Let’s call this what it is: an attempt — this time leveled at Vermonters — by the GOP machine to attack the voting rights of people it doesn’t like.

Which, by the way, sends another message: “Go home,” which is an attack on human rights.

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(1) comment


Why elect or pay the salary for a Governor if his vote is not respected by the Legislature? I also want to know why the gov't has gone to such a length to allow noncitizens to vote but American citizens that pay property taxes for land and vacation homes do not have a vote? Is it just the first step to granting noncitizens a vote in federal elections? Unconstititutional, wouldn't you say?

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