Group Challenges Burlington, Vermont Law That Allows Noncitizen Voting

Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections (RITE), a right-wing group, filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of two voters challenging a provision in the Burlington, Vermont law that allows noncitizens to vote in local elections.

In 2023, Burlington amended its city charter to allow noncitizens — who are legal residents in the U.S., Burlington residents and at least 18 years old — to vote in all local elections. This includes school board elections and votes on the city’s annual education budget. 

Burlington, Vermont city hall. (Doug Kerr/Wikimedia Commons)

The plaintiffs Michele Morin and Karen Rowell — U.S. citizens and active voters in Burlington elections — specifically target the city amendment’s provision about education elections.

They argue that while the school district’s budget is voted on locally, it’s funded by the state, so this provision violates the Vermont Constitution, which requires someone to be a U.S. citizen to vote on “any matter that concerns the State of Vermont.” 

Morin and Rowell also argue that their votes will be diluted by noncitizen votes, meaning that their votes will have less impact on the election results.

The plaintiffs ask the state court to issue an order banning the city from registering and allowing noncitizens to vote in educated-related elections and referendums. 

RITE President Derek Lyons issued a statement on June 18, saying that allowing noncitizens to vote is undermining democracy.

“Non-citizen voting violates citizens’ inherent right to direct how their communities are governed. This is simple. U.S. jurisdictions should be governed by U.S. citizens,” Lyons said. “The non-citizen voting movement achieves the left’s goal of legalizing foreign interference in American elections.”

However, he did not provide any proof behind his statement that allowing noncitizens to vote causes foreign interference in elections.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) also released a statement that week, expressing its support for the lawsuit.

“Americans should decide American elections. Democrats’ persistent efforts to enable noncitizen voting dilute the voices of Americans in Vermont and across the country,” RNC Chairman Michael Whatley said. “This lawsuit is just the latest development in our ongoing fight to prevent noncitizens from voting in our elections.”

Also, Montpelier, the state’s capital, amended its city charter to allow noncitizens to vote in municipal elections in June 2021 but does not allow them to vote on the city’s education budget and school board.

The RNC, the Vermont Republican Party and Vermont voters filed a lawsuit in September 2021 challenging the statute, arguing that it violates the Vermont Constitution because the state constitution only allows U.S. citizens to vote. 

In April 2022, a trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and the plaintiffs appealed this decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, which affirmed the trial court’s decision in January 2023, meaning that Montpelier’s noncitizen voting statute remains in place.

Like Burlington, Winooski amended its city charter to allow noncitizens to vote in all local elections, including referendums on the city’s school board and education budget. The amendment was approved in June 2021, and the RNC, Vermont GOP and voters challenged it in March 2023.

They argued that the Vermont Supreme Court’s ruling on the Montpelier case involved a statute that only authorized noncitizens to vote in certain local elections, while the Winooski statute also allows noncitizens to vote in matters pertaining to the education budget. 

The Republicans presented the same arguments that the plaintiffs in Burlington’s case are using in their lawsuit now and filed it in the same Chittenden County court. In November 2023, the court dismissed the case.

If the plaintiffs win this case, all of the noncitizens in Burlington will not be allowed to vote on crucial education-related issues.

A victory could also lead to Republicans moving to attack laws in Washington, D.C. and municipalities in Maryland and California that allow noncitizens to vote in local elections. In fact, the U.S. House already passed a law last month to ban noncitizen voting in Washington, D.C.

Read the Republicans’ complaint here.

Learn more about the case here.

This story was updated on June 25, 2024, at 4:50 p.m. EDT to add that the Republican National Committee released a statement expressing its support for the lawsuit.