Politics

Lawmakers will attempt to override vetoes of noncitizen voting measures

Becca Balint at podium in front of statehouse
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, discusses the 2021 legislative session during a press conference in Montpelier on June 2, 2021. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Vermont lawmakers plan to vote on overriding Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes of bills to allow noncitizen residents of Winooski and Montpelier to vote in local elections. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint D-Windham, told reporters Wednesday she expects the Senate to convene later this month to “hopefully override the actions on those bills,” H.177 and H.227

“You can bet we’ll be back for a veto session,” Balint said.

“These bills were important to many Vermonters from those communities, and I think if we truly believe in local control, then members of these communities can say who they believe should have a say in local elections,” she said. 

Scott announced Tuesday he had killed the proposed changes in each city charter. Charter changes are subject to approval by the Legislature. 

The governor said he was concerned about creating an “inconsistency in election policy, as well as separate and unequal classes of residents potentially eligible to vote on local issues.” 

He said he wanted to reopen the discussion and asked lawmakers to develop a “statewide policy” for municipalities that want to grant local voting rights to legal residents. 

House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, also announced Wednesday that her chamber would also vote on overriding the governor’s vetoes of the charter changes.

“I can appreciate the governor’s desire to have a statewide framework for policy, and that is important in some policy matters, but it simply doesn’t work in situations like this that require charters to be tailored to a specific community,” Krowinksi said in a statement Wednesday. 

“It is important for us to pass legislation that touches all corners of our state, but it is also important for us to recognize the unique needs of our individual communities and their right to shape the future of local elections as the majority of their voters see fit.” 

The House also plans to vote on the other bill Scott vetoed this session, S.107, according to Krowinski’s chief of staff, Conor Kennedy. 

Balint said that, during the veto session, lawmakers may also take up other pieces of legislation that “didn’t quite make it over” the finish line before the Legislature adjourned last month. 

Democratic leaders have already said they’re interested in passing an expansive housing reform proposal that Republicans blocked before adjournment in May.

But Balint said she wouldn’t identify bills she wanted to take up later this month until she spoke with Krowinski. 

Democrats who had supported the noncitizen voting measures criticized Scott’s vetoes. 

“I feel that Gov. Scott’s veto of both charter bills is representative of a fear to change, a fear to let ‘the other’ have a voice,” said Rep. Hal Colston, D-Winooski. 

“So I think the voters of Winooski and Montpelier have spoken loudly, and leaders from these communities are fearlessly coping with change, so the veto must be overridden,” he said. 

Colston also said he doesn’t believe the Legislature would support a consistent policy to help municipalities provide local voting rights to residents, as Scott suggested. 

“When’s the last time you visited the Statehouse? You see all these white, old, white-haired people who aren’t there yet as far as being on this continuum of becoming an anti-racist, inclusive space. I don’t think we’re there yet,” Colston said.

Conor Casey, a Montpelier city councilor, called the vetoes hypocritical, pointing to the fact that Scott called on the U.S. State Department in March to send more refugees to the state.

“I think by vetoing this charter change, it sort of sends the message that, OK, refugees are welcome for their labor, but we have no intention of giving them a meaningful voice in our communities,” Casey said.

To override a veto, the House and Senate need two-thirds majorities — 20 votes in the Senate and 100 votes in the House. The House approved the Montpelier charter change 103-39, and Senate approval came on a 21-9 vote, showing Democrats may have the votes to override the governor. 

But the Winooski charter change had slightly less support, passing 99-44 in the House and 20-10 in the Senate.

Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, the Senate minority leader, opposed the charter changes, and said he supported the governor’s veto. He said he’s concerned about municipalities “treating citizens differently on a municipality-by-municipality basis.”

Giving voting rights to noncitizens in municipal elections has “the potential of diluting the votes of those who are citizens,” Brock said. “If you have, let’s say, two people who are able to vote in an election and you add a third person, the value of the first two persons’ votes has now declined in terms of both its significance and its weight. 

“And I have serious concerns about the fairness of that,” he said.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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