Vt. City Considers Allowing Noncitizens to Vote in Local Races

The proposed charter change would affect ultra-local races in Winooski, like for the city’s school board, but not state or federal elections

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This election season, one Vermont community is voting on the future of voting.

A ballot question in Winooski asks whether legal city residents who are not U.S. citizens should be able to cast ballots on local issues such as the city council or school board.

"I have a voice," said software developer Prashant Singh, who owns a home in Winooski, pays taxes, and whose three kids go to the city's elementary school.

However, Singh can't vote in city elections because he is not a U.S. citizen. He's from India.

"I'm not able to represent myself," Singh observed.

That could change for hundreds in Vermont's most diverse city.

Winooski is considering updating its charter to allow all legal residents, including those who are not U.S. citizens, to vote on ultra-local issues.

While such residents would be able to vote on topics such as the school budget or who's on the city council, they still wouldn't be able to cast ballots in state or federal elections.

"I can work more and more on making this a better place," Singh said, describing his goal to become more involved in the way the city and its schools are run.

Liz Edsell chairs the charter change committee, and spent a year researching the issue, conducting outreach to immigrants in Winooski, and participating in public education forums on the proposal.

"Democracy works better and communities work better when more people participate," Edsell said Monday in an interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston. "I believe that people will be more inclined to do that if they have a vote on some of the local matters that impact their lives very significantly."

"It's not a gift," countered veteran Dave Senical of Winooski, referring to voting. "It's a right and a privilege."

Senical said he is disappointed in the city leaders backing the idea.

"To me, it's just total disrespect for any American soldier that put their lives on the line to give them the right to vote—and they're willing to turn around and give it away" Senical said of city officials. "Literally give it away."

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The Vermont Legislature would have to approve the charter change if Winooski passes it.

After voters in Montpelier approved this same measure two years ago, their push eventually stalled in the Vermont Senate.

Prashant Singh said he hopes one day to become a U.S. citizen and have full voting rights.

"To make my Winooski a better place to live in," Singh said of why he wants to be more active in local issues.

In the meantime, he'll be on the sidelines watching democracy play out this Election Day.

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