Gov. Phil Scott struck down two measures on Saturday that would expand voting rights in local communities.
He vetoed H.509, a charter change approved by Burlington voters that would allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. And, for the second year in a row, he rejected a charter change that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds in Brattleboro to cast ballots in local elections.
In doing so, the governor added two more bills — plus the budget — to legislators’ checklist to reconsider during their June veto session.
Thanks to Dillon’s Rule, municipalities must earn the blessing of state lawmakers in order to make such amendments to their charters, no matter how widespread their local support.
In explaining his veto of noncitizen voting in Burlington, Scott harked back to his vetoes of similar measures in Montpelier and Winooski in 2021, stating that, “this highly variable town-by-town approach to municipal election policy creates separate and unequal classes of legal residents potentially eligible to vote on local voting issues.”
“I am happy to see legal residents who are non-citizens calling Vermont home and participating in the issues affecting their communities,” Scott said in his statement Saturday. “However, the fundamentals of voting should be universal and implemented statewide.”
Both the Montpelier and Winooski measures made it into law with a veto override — suggesting Burlington’s charter change could follow the same path.
Also on Saturday, Scott allowed H.508, which will expand ranked choice voting in Burlington local election, to take effect without his signature. Already in place for Burlington City Council elections, ranked choice voting will now also apply to mayoral, school board and ward officer races.
In a statement, Scott expressed skepticism about the voting method but, citing the limited scope of the change, said he would still allow it to become law. “As we know, ranked choice voting went terribly wrong over a decade ago, resulting in Burlington abandoning the practice. Nevertheless, it appears the politics have changed in the City, for now, in favor of ranked choice voting,” Scott said, adding that he remains opposed to ranked choice voting at the statewide level.
This year marks Brattleboro’s second attempt at amending its charter in order to lower its local voting age. Proponents of H.386, which would also allow 16- and 17-year olds to run for town office, argue that the move would get Brattleboro’s teens engaged at a younger age, educating them on the civic responsibility of voting and empowering them with a voice in their local community.
Scott disagreed. In a Saturday statement, he repeated his argument from last year — that the bill exacerbates an inconsistency in state law when it comes to defining the age of adulthood. “For example, the Legislature has repeatedly raised the age of accountability to reduce the consequences when young adults commit criminal offenses,” Scott said. “They have argued this approach is justified because these offenders are not mature enough to contemplate the full range of risks and impacts of their actions.”
If this year’s floor votes are any indication, the Senate could be the ultimate decider in whether H.386 goes into effect — potentially setting Brattleboro voters up for a repeat of last year’s failed override attempt in the upper chamber.
A two-thirds majority of lawmakers present is required to override a gubernatorial veto. With all members present, such a move requires 100 yeas in the House, and 20 in the Senate.
The House voted 103-33 on the bill in April. But in the Senate, the floor votes were 16-8, followed by 18-10. When the latter vote was cast on May 9, two senators were absent: Sen. Dave Weeks, R-Rutland, and Sen. Irene Wrenner, D-Chittenden North. In order to override Scott’s veto come June, both would need to vote yes — or senators who previously voted against the bill would need to change their tune.
Should the override attempt fail in the Senate, Brattleboro’s charter change would face the same fate as it did last year, when the veto override attempt succeeded in the House but failed in the Senate.
Alicia Freese contributed reporting.