In 2007, an Italian ecologist led a group of local immigrants in trying to convince Burlington residents to allow people who weren’t U.S. citizens to vote on Town Meeting Day. The proposal elicited reactions so vitriolic that the group disbanded. Four years later, Progressive Councilor Vince Brennan asked the city council to put that question to voters. It died during deliberations. By the time Brennan brought the proposal up again in 2014, things had changed: All but two councilors agreed to put the question on Burlington’s ballot this March. The once-ambivalent Mayor Miro Weinberger supported the decision, too.
How did a nonstarter issue turn into a political possibility? A 24-year-old Bhutanese refugee, a few persistent Progs, a consultants’ report and an unnamed Canadian citizen all played a role.
Burlington is home to roughly 1,900 “noncitizens” — 4.5 percent of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census. The term refers to legal residents — people with Green Cards or shorter-term visas — who haven’t been naturalized. Obtaining citizenship can take more than a decade for some foreign-born residents; others are reluctant to renounce citizenship in their country of origin.