Crime and Justice

Judge dismisses challenge to Winooski’s noncitizen voting

Winooski voters cast their ballots on Town Meeting Day in March. A judge dismissed a challenge to the town's noncitizen voting. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A superior court judge on Thursday ruled Winooski residents who are not U.S. citizens can continue to vote in local elections, denying a Republican-led attempt to block the practice.

“We’re really excited that the case was dismissed. It is what we expected,” Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott said. “We believe that the court finding is correct, that there is no law preventing noncitizen residents from voting in local elections and so we’re excited that our all-resident voting can continue.”

The Thursday ruling comes on the heels of a similar case in Montpelier. In that case, Judge Robert Mello of Washington Superior Court rejected an argument by the state and national Republican parties that noncitizen voting violates the Vermont Constitution. 

While the constitution states that U.S. citizenship is a requirement to vote, that language applies to state elections, not municipal ones. Eligibility for a municipal election is determined by the state Legislature, Mello wrote in his decision.

Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Samuel Hoar Jr. cited the Montpelier case in his decision, saying the Winooski plaintiffs “filed a virtually identical challenge.” He granted the city’s motion to dismiss. 

The Republican National Committee and the Vermont Republican Party filed the nearly identical complaints last September against the cities of Winooski and Montpelier, where voters had previously amended their charters to give noncitizens a vote in local elections.

The lawsuits argue the state constitution declares voter eligibility in local elections when it states, “Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States … shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state.”

But that section of the constitution refers to a person’s ability to vote in state elections, not local ones, according to Peter Teachout, a professor at Vermont Law School who specializes in constitutional law. 

Roughly 60 noncitizens voted in Winooski for the first time at Town Meeting Day in March, according to Lott. 

GOP officials could bring the case to the Vermont Supreme Court, but proponents of the charter change believe the high court would also dismiss it.

Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, who brought the Winooski amendment before the Vermont Senate for approval, said she hopes to see more communities support all-resident voting in the future.

“We were proud to advance noncitizen voting in our most internationally diverse community in Vermont, and we can be even more proud as Vermonters that a legal challenge was dismissed,” she said.

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Auditi Guha

About Auditi

Auditi is Chittenden County editor at VTDigger. Originally from Calcutta, India, she graduated from Emerson College with an MA in journalism. She has worked as an editor and reporter for several newspapers, and in various beats. Most recently, she covered race and justice at Rewire.News, and higher education at the New Bedford Standard-Times. She previously worked at several Massachusetts newsrooms. She is a mentor for young reporters through the Report For America program, founded the Boston chapter of the South Asian Journalists Association, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Email: aguha@vtdigger.org

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