It begins: Senate in Bernie Sander’s state moves to allow noncitizens to vote in capital city’s local elections

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MONTPELIER, VT – Due to recent actions of the Vermont State Senate, noncitizens who reside in Vermont’s capital city of Montpelier are moving closer to being able to vote in local elections.

On May 4, 2021, the Vermont Senate voted to amend Montpelier’s city charter and allow noncitizens to vote.

In Vermont, according to True North, the state’s constitution does not disallow noncitizen voting, but state law makes it illegal.  

Montpelier attorney Dan Richardson told True North that:

“there are four main components laid out in state statute (17 V.S.A. § 2121) that determine voter eligibility: a person must be at least 18 years of age, be a resident of Vermont, take the Voters Oath and be a U.S. citizen.”

As such, the path to noncitizen voting requires the state legislature’s approval for a city’s charter change.

Montpelier started down that path in 2018, and by 2019, the city’s voters had approved the idea.  The proposal moved on to the Vermont House, which approved a charter change for the city with a 95-46 vote in April 2019.

After the proposal failed in the Senate, the push nevertheless continued, with the House recently approving the move again with a 103-39 vote.  

Just a few days ago, the proposal finally received the nod from the Vermont State Senate, with a vote of 21-9 on May 4.

Vermont State Senator Kesha Ram announced on Twitter:

“All resident (or non-citizen) voting in local elections has failed to make it to the floor twice before in the #VT Senate. 

“Today it passed in the #Montpelier Charter on a vote of 21-9. A step forward for inclusive democracy.”

Vermont State Senator Brian Collamore told Fox News regarding the Senate’s move:

“I believe if someone wishes to be able to vote they should be a citizen.”

He added:

“The Montpelier bill allows what is defined as a legal resident of the United States to be able to vote in city elections….

“If someone is here on a permanent basis, why would he or she not want to participate in the process to become a citizen?”

Montpelier is one of two cities in the blue state of Vermont that are currently pushing for noncitizens to vote.

The small city of Winooski, VT, has been taking similar steps.

Winooski started the process of amending its charter in 2020, when voters approved changes that would permit noncitizens to vote.

Specifically, according to the Associated Press:

“the proposal permits a Winooski resident who isn’t a U.S. citizen but is in the country under a ‘federally sanctioned legal category’ such as a permanent resident visa to be eligible to vote in local elections, such as city and school elections, but not state and federal races.”

Deputy Mayor Hal Colston, who is also a Democratic representative in the Vermont House, told the Associated Press regarding local voters’ approval:

“Our community spoke, and spoke well — 2 1/2 to 1.”

He added:

“Given that we’re the most diverse city in northern New England, the time has come for this kind of legislation so that we have so many more voices in our democratic process. 

“We’re at a loss if we don’t experience the full diversity of our communities and how we need to do things.”

The Vermont Senate passed the bill authorizing a charter change for Winooski on Friday, May 7, with a vote of 20-10.  According to the VT Digger, all seven Senate Republicans opposed the bill, as well as three Democrats.

Republican Vermont state Rep. Rob LaClair voiced his objections to amendments permitting noncitizen voting to Fox News, saying:

“Clearly, I voted against it. I’ve got a lot of concerns.”

One such concern, according to Fox, was that the move would “discourage people from becoming citizens.”

LaClair added:

“We’re all about inclusion. Let’s do it the right way. Let’s do it by the rules.”

LaClair went on to say:

”Our legislature is very heavily Democratic.”

He continued:

”Now these folks are going to be able to weigh in on school budgets theoretically. 

“They could pass a school budget we’re all going to wind up having to pay for.”

Rep. LaClair also told Fox News that Republican Governor Phil Scott will probably not stand in the way of the charter changes.

“I have had conversations with him and he is certainly not in favor of it, allowing noncitizens to vote.”

He added:

”He’ll probably let it pass into law but without his signature.”

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Proposed bill in Vermont would ban Black Lives Matter and other ‘political’ flags from schools grounds

February 8, 2021

MONTPELIER, VT- A pending bill proposed by a group of lawmakers in Vermont would prohibit any flag other than the American flag or a Vermont state flag to be flown on school grounds in the state of Vermont. 

Vermont State Representative Brian Smith (R-Derby), who proposed House Bill 92, said in a statement to Seven Days:

“Everybody, whether you’re black or gay or Hispanic or white, we’re all Americans. We all live under one red, white, and blue flag.”

Back by eight House Republicans, H.92 seeks to help school boards focused more on “educating kids” and less on debating “political agendas” such as that of the Black Lives Matter movement, said Smith. 

He said that he proposed the ban on anything other than American or Vermont flags after he noticed school boards would “spend hours upon hours” arguing over whether to raise the Black Lives Matter flag over campuses.

Montpelier High School became the first in the nation to raise it after a student-led effort back in 2018. Since then, students at a number of other Vermont schools have followed suit, including some spurred by last summer’s national reckoning systemic racism and policing.

The movement spread across the state, but has caused a significant amount of controversy. Smith said that H.92 would simplify matters by codifying that only American and Vermont flags may be flown.

He emphasized that the legislation did not single out Black Lives Matter or any other individual group and said Prison of War (POW) flags and other flags representing causes would not be permitted.

Smith argued that raising any flag beyond the U.S. and Vermont ones opens the door to all types of requests and would keep school boards mired in debate. Smith couldn’t say why he chose a “flat-out ban” instead of a bill that would just specify what types of flags would be allowed. He said:

“It just came into my head that this was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he continued to explain, he honed his rationale by saying:

“These other groups have agendas. The American flag and the Vermont state flag are not an agenda flag.”

Smith suggested that his proposal would be a way to smooth tensions amid a charged political environment. He said:

“I’m a taxpayer. I pay for the public schools. Someone that is a fully supportive member of the BLM movement is a taxpayer as well. This takes that person and I from not having to argue over whether the flag should be flown or not.”

He added:

“There’s enough conflicts going on right now. We don’t need to keep adding to it.”

Montpelier Roxbury School Board Chair Jim Murphy called Smith’s proposed legislation the “epitome of white privilege.” Murphy approved the request from the high school to fly the Black Lives Matter flag. He said:

“These are issues that have been under the surface and have been the cause and continue to be the cause of a lot of inequity and injustice and hurt in our society.”

He added:

“Avoiding these discussions benefits those who already have privilege and keeps those that don’t in the same position they’ve been in.”

Murphy said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that Montpelier’s discussion over whether to raise its flag in any way detracted from student’s learning experience. He said:

“It was both not an onerous debate and a productive debate that has advanced the educational and other values of the district. These are the debates that districts need to be having.”

House Education Committee chair Rep. Kate Webb (D-Shelburne) told Seven Days in a text message that she does not intend to take up the bill, effectively already killing the bill.

She said she will long remember watching the student-led efforts to raise the flag in Montpelier and other schools. She wrote:

“I cannot imagine being involved in a law that would have made that illegal.”
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