Home News and Features Non-Citizen Voting Set in Montpelier

Non-Citizen Voting Set in Montpelier

Photo by John Lazenby.
Shortly before Town Meeting Day, a “mere 11 people” had registered as non-citizen voters in Montpelier since it was first approved in 2018, according to City Clerk John Odum. That’s nearly half again the number registered just a few months ago, five years after the 2018 election when Montpelier voters approved allowing non-citizens who are legal residents to vote in local elections.

“The first six were folks from Europe or Canada,” said Odum. “The most recent [non-citizen voters] we’re starting to see are from other places, the Middle East, East Asia … so that’s cool. I’m hoping that’s a trend.”

Out of the 6,200 active voters in Montpelier, fewer than 0.2% (11) are non-citizens according to Odum, who said they can vote in city elections but not on matters related to the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools (because Roxbury doesn’t have non-citizen voting), or in state or federal elections. For that reason, he said, the city has a special ballot for non-citizen voters in every election.

On Jan. 20, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a state statute authorizing non-citizen voting (for legal U.S. residents) in Montpelier to vote in local elections, affirming a lower court’s decision that found the law complies with the state constitution. 

“The Supreme Court here in Vermont said non-citizen voting is completely legal as long as all democratic processes are followed,” said Marguerite Adelman, a board member for the League of Women Voters of Vermont and chair of the Non-Citizen Voting Committee. “The league registers people to vote, and we see it as our responsibility now to register non-citizens. We go to citizenship ceremonies and after that register people to vote,” she added. “Our main issue is to make sure people (know they can vote).”

Adelman is a resident of Winooski, the only other Vermont city that currently allows non-citizen voting. She said that, as of Winooski’s 2022 town meeting, 56 non-citizens were registered, with only 17 voting out of 7,300 registered voters.

“At one point 40 states allowed some form of non-citizen voting. It wasn’t based on citizenship; it was based on gender, race, whether you owned property,” said Adelman. Federal law prohibits non-citizen voting in federal elections only, she said, and no state constitutions currently allow it. However, Rhode Island and Connecticut have two proposed bills that would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.

Non-citizen voting has been in place for more than 100 years, she said, with “absolutely no controversy until the last three or four years.”

In a recent presentation at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library called “What is Non-citizen Voting,” Adelman said non-citizen voting is being considered in Boston and Worcester, Mass. (and has already passed in Amherst, Mass.), Chicago, Portland, Maine; San Jose, Calif.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Washington D.C. It’s already happened in 11 cities in Maryland, and four other states (including Vermont). She said just 4.4% of Vermont residents are immigrants, and 2% of those, approximately 12,000 people, are non-citizens. Burlington is considering non-citizen voting this year as well. 

Registering as a non-citizen voter in Montpelier is a simple process, Odum said. The registration form is “tweaked slightly” from the citizen form, to include citations that refer to the city charter. Registration happens in person at the city clerk’s office, by mail, or at the polls on Town Meeting Day, Odum said. Any person may register who is a legal resident of the United States, a resident of the city of Montpelier; 18 years of age or older; and has taken the voter’s oath.

To see the full presentation sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Vermont about non-citizen voting, go to orcamedia.net/show/what-non-citizen-voting.