Burlington Advisory Ballot Question for Voting Rights of Non-Citizens
At the January 21st Burlington City Council meeting, the Council will consider a resolution that would place an advisory question on the March ballot asking voters if Burlington should change its city charter to allow non U.S. citizens to vote on the local level. The exact ballot question wording is:
“Shall the City Council prepare an amendment to the City Charter allowing the right to vote in any City or School election or ballot question for any non-United States citizen who has been a resident of Vermont for at least two years and who is and has been a resident of the City for at least one year?”
A yes vote would send a message to the City Council to begin the internal city process to prepare a proposal for how to amend the city charter to allow non-citizens to vote. The city would then:
- Convene the City Council Charter Change Committee to examine the issue in detail and review legal implications on a local and state level. The Committee would propose charter change language to the full City Council;
- The City Council would then vote to approve the charter change language and send the charter change to the voters for approval;
- The Burlington voters would vote on a binding question at the next local election and if approved, the charter change request is sent to the State Legislature;
- The Legislature must approve all city or town charter changes. Once approved by the Legislature, the City could begin registering new voters and these voters could vote in the next local election.
The fastest timeline would be for voters to approve the advisory question in March 2012 with the charger change proposal back to the voters on a local ballot (if there is one) during the November 2012 election. The state legislature would then meet in January 2013 and could take the issue up quickly, allowing new voters to register and vote as early as March 2013. However, it is possible for the process to take longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why grant voting rights to non-citizens?
A: Many non-citizens currently pay taxes, send their kids to local schools, serve in the military and are active in the communities today. However, they do not have an official voice in local issues. Granting local voting rights increases government accountability and responsiveness to immigrant residents, provides a voice to immigrant communities on local issues such as school budgets, and overall promotes civic engagement in local affairs. Many non-citizens want to be active members of the community and have a formal seat at the decision-making table.
Do other municipalities grant non-citizens voting rights?
A: Currently 7 municipalities in the United States provide local voting rights to non-citizens (ex: Tacoma Park, MD and Amherst, MA). Another three towns recently passed local laws granting local voting rights and are awaiting state legislature approval. More recently, Portland, ME and New Haven, CT are considering the issue. Many European countries extend the right to vote on local issues to non-citizens, including in Ireland for the last 40 years. In the Scandinavian countries, non-citizens can vote locally after 3 years of residency. Source: Immigrant Voting Project, The World Policy Institute, New York, NY
Has Burlington talked about granting local voting rights to non-citizens before?
A: Yes, as recently as 2005, a local group, Vermont Immigrant Voting Alliance (VIVA), raised the issue of allowing non-citizens to vote. The issue was never brought to the voters for formal action.
What is decided in local elections and what would non-citizens get to vote on?
A: The local elections happen primarily in March. Occasionally, local ballots are added to state elections in November. In March, the local voters set the local school budget and consider questions relating to city finances such as bonds, charter changes, and other citywide questions. In March, we also elect one city council per ward and one school board commissioner. Every three years, we elect the mayor.
Doesn’t granting local voting rights remove the incentive for non-citizens to apply to be full citizens?
A: On the contrary, it could inspire immigrants to seek full U.S. citizenship, increase civic involvement, and strengthen our local democracy. Granting local voting rights is not a substitution for citizenship. People must be U.S. citizens to be eligible for certain jobs and to qualify for government benefits, such as SSI for the elderly. U.S. citizenship also includes a U.S. passport, which makes international travel easier to some countries that would otherwise require visas. Citizenship also provides more piece of mind in terms of security/protection when traveling in certain conflict-torn countries.
Historically, about 20 states and territories within the United States offered local voting rights to non-citizens up until the 1920s. This practice ended due to an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment in the country during the post-WW1 era. Prior, some of these 20 locations even allowed state and federal voting rights. The U.S. Constitution allows local states and municipalities to determine voting qualifications for state and local elections. Source: Migration Information Source, “Immigrant Voting Rights Receive More Attention” by Michele Wucker, World Policy Institute (2004)
Do other municipalities grant non-citizens voting rights?
A: Currently 7 municipalities in the United States provide local voting rights to non-citizens (ex: Tacoma Park, MD and Amherst, MA). Another three towns recently passed local laws granting local voting rights and are awaiting state legislature approval before implementing the new local law. Several more communities have discussed the issue, including New York City and Washington D.C., over the last 5-10 years. More recently Portland, ME and New Haven, CT have begun to discuss extending local voting rights to non-citizens. In Ireland, non-citizens have had the right to vote locally for the last 40 years and in Scandinavian countries, non-citizens can vote locally after 3 years of residency. Source: Immigrant Voting Project, The World Policy Institute, New York, NY
What is the process for becoming a U.S. citizen?
A: An immigrant must apply for permanent residency before applying for citizenship. This step alone takes about 5 years. To apply for permanent residency based off a work visa, it is not uncommon for the process to take 10-15 years. Refugees and family based visa (via marriage or adoption) usually take less time. The process is a complex one and can cost hundreds of dollars in application fees and additional legal costs depending on the complexity of the application. Since September 11, 2001, increased security screening of immigration applications have created backlogs for applications.
How can you help?
1. Contact your local city councilor and talk to him/her about why this is an important issue. www.ci.burlington.vt.us/citycouncil.
2. Attend the January 21st City Council meeting and speak out about this issue. 7:30pm, City Hall, Contois Auditorium.
3. Contact sponsors of the resolution with any questions: City Councilor, Vince Brennan at 802-922-8259 or City Councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak at 802-999-6723.