I don’t make a habit of reading “True North Reports,” the right-wing “news” site bankrolled by the famously reclusive Lenore Broughton. But I do dip my toe in its clouded waters from time to time, just because you gotta keep an eye on those Fockers.
I just did so, and mirabile dictu, I found a nugget of news!
On True North Reports!
What is this nugget? Well, at a VTGOP meeting over the weekend, party chair Deb Billado announced that the party would file lawsuits against the cities of Montpelier and Winooski over their Legislature-approved charter changes allowing resident noncitizens to vote. “We’re not sitting still on that particular issue,” she told the assembled. “We believe that it goes directly against the Vermont State Constitution section 42 and we are moving forward with legal action.”
Yeah, that qualifies as news. Congrats to Mike Bielawski for being the first, and so far only, person to report that fact.
The plaudits must be restrained for two reasons. First, he only got the exclusive because he was the only reporter to attend the meeting. And second, he buried it in paragraphs 11 and 12 of his story. His lead item was about some national Republican addressing the gathering on the importance of “election integrity,” by which he means following the Republican playbook and making it more difficult to vote.
Back to the impending lawsuit.
Billado argues that allowing noncitizens to vote violates the state constitution. Here’s the relevant passage from Section 42 of the constitution.
Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the following oath or affirmation, shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state.
‘Citizen of the United States.” Seems clear. Except…
Billado isn’t a lawyer. Unlike Peter Teachout, professor at Vermont Law School and the Legislature’s eminence grise. In written testimony submitted in 2019 (viewable as pdf here), when lawmakers first took up the Montpelier measure, he argued that there is a clear and well-established difference between state elections and municipal elections — and that while the state would have to amend the constitution to allow noncitizens to vote, there’s nothing to prevent cities or towns from doing so.
…the fact is, in the field of state constitutional law, courts have long drawn a constitutional distinction between voting in state elections and voting in municipal elections, and have consistently held that the constitutional requirements for voting in state elections do not limit legislative discretion in setting the qualifications for voting in purely local elections.
And specifically in Vermont, “every decision in which the [Vermont Supreme] Court has directly addressed the question has upheld the view that establishing qualifications for voting in local or municipal elections is not governed by the state constitution but a matter left to legislative discretion.”
Teachout said a “core constitutional principle” was established in those decisions that “the qualifications for voting or being elected to office in local elections is a matter left to the discretion of the legislature to be established by statute.”
I think it’s safe to say that Teachout trumps Billado here. But I do look forward to the VTGOP wasting the resources of Montpelier and Winooski in its doomed effort to keep them furriners from votin’.