MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a charter change that would have allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections in the Capital City.
The governor announced Tuesday night he had vetoed two House bills that were charter changes for Montpelier and Winooski. The changes, if approved, would have allowed legal residents who are not citizens to vote in municipal elections. Montpelier residents approved the proposal in November 2018 by a vote of 2,857-1,488.
In his letter to the Legislature explaining the rationale behind the veto, the governor said, “This is an important policy discussion that deserves further consideration and debate. Allowing a highly variable town-by-town approach to municipal voting creates inconsistency in election policy, as well as separate and unequal classes of residents potentially eligible to vote on local issues. I believe it is the role of the Legislature to establish clarity and consistency on this matter. This should include defining how municipalities determine which legal residents may vote on local issues, as well as specifying the local matters they may vote on. Returning these bills provides the opportunity to do this important work.”
Mayor Anne Watson said she was disappointed by the governor’s decision. Watson said it’s disappointing for those who have been working on this effort for years and for the residents who voted in favor of it.
“And I think it’s also particularly disappointing for those who would have gained access to voting in local elections,” she said.
The mayor said these residents are friends, neighbors and colleagues. They are part of the community.
Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, D-Windham, said in a statement Wednesday morning according to the state’s Constitution, the Legislature grants authority to towns for what they can do.
“We have a clearly defined charter process whereby towns can establish many of their own policies, which must be vetted and approved by the Legislature. Voters in Montpelier and Winooski came out in favor of noncitizen voting and the Legislature, after vigorous debate and deliberation, supported their ability to regulate their local elections in this way,” Balint said.
She said she agrees with Scott that this is an important policy discussion.
“I would welcome a more comprehensive discussion on noncitizen voting, but I don’t think residents of Winooski and Montpelier should have to wait for that discussion. They’ve made their voices heard on this issue, and we should let them lead the way,” she said.
The Alliance for a Better Vermont also criticized the governor’s veto. That organization is a nonprofit that is “working to elevate Vermont voices on pressing issues to advance a collective vision and create a more prosperous and resilient future for Vermont.”
Ashley Moore, executive director of the organization, said in a statement Wednesday the governor chose to “override and stifle the will of the voters with his vetoes.”
“All-resident voting is crucial for the health and well-being of our communities. We’re thankful to the Vermont Legislature for their work supporting the will of the voters and working to build a more inclusive democracy. It’s disappointing that the governor doesn’t share these goals,” Moore said.
Watson said she will reach out to the lawmakers who represent Montpelier about the veto, but she’s unsure at this point if the Legislature will reconvene for a veto session to possibly override the governor’s decision.
The mayor said in reading Scott’s reasoning for the veto, it seemed as if he were open to the possibility of noncitizens voting statewide.
“Which I think would be intriguing. I think it would make sense for communities like Montpelier and Winooski to lead the way and show that this is a system that works,” she said.