click to enlarge
- James Buck
- City officials presenting a budget proposal at the Winooski Senior Center
Republicans are again suing the City of Winooski for allowing noncitizen residents to vote in local elections, weeks after the Vermont Supreme Court struck down an earlier challenge to the practice in Montpelier.
The new complaint, filed on Thursday by the Vermont GOP, the Republican National Committee and two city residents, takes aim more narrowly at school elections. Because local districts use funds from state education coffers, the plaintiffs' legal theory goes, school board and budget votes should be treated as state elections, which the Vermont Constitution restricts to citizens.
But RNC chair Ronna McDaniel made clear in a statement that the party opposes all forms of noncitizen voting. “American elections should only be decided by American citizens in Vermont and nationwide," she said.
The lawsuit, McDaniel added, was a matter of "election integrity," which has become a rallying point for the party in wake of former President Donald Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud after his 2020 defeat. The RNC succeeded in striking down New York City's noncitizen voting law last year.
click to enlarge
- Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
- A sign in Burlington promoting noncitizen voting in several languages
The Winooski lawsuit was first reported by the Vermont Daily Chronicle
In 2021, following local votes and state lawmakers' approval, Winooski and Montpelier joined a small number of municipalities nationwide in extending voting rights to noncitizens. Voters in Burlington passed a similar measure on Tuesday that would take effect if state lawmakers sign off.
The cities' charter changes are not identical. While Winooski and Burlington included school elections in their expanded voter eligibility, Montpelier did not.
The RNC and the Vermont GOP sued both Winooski and Montpelier in 2021, seeking to have their charter changes struck down. In January, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected the bid in the Montpelier case
, reasoning that "there is still a difference between municipal government and state government."
In their decision, the justices wrote that an election involving noncitizen voters could run afoul of the state constitution if it was merely "municipal in name."
The retooled complaint against Winooski contends that local school elections are such an example.
"Votes regarding local school budgets impact the state budget and thus the financial interests of Vermonters statewide," attorney Brady Toensing wrote.
Toensing declined to say whether his clients intended to bring another challenge against Montpelier, as well. Asked whether the GOP would sue Burlington, he declined to answer.
Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott said state lawmakers discussed the school-election aspect when debating whether to approve the charter change.
The Vermont Attorney General's office helped both cities defend their charter changes against the earlier legal challenges. A spokesperson declined to comment on the new litigation but said Attorney General Charity Clark "supports the rights of local cities and towns to determine who votes in local elections." Clark is a Democrat.
Few noncitizen residents rushed to register to vote once the measures in Winooski and Montpelier were approved, Seven Days previously reported
. Proponents said that, beyond the legal barrier, cultural, technological and linguistic divides remain.
Lott said 16 noncitizen residents voted in the city's municipal elections on Town Meeting Day earlier this week.
Read the RNC's complaint below: