Thetford Selectboard rejects noncitizen voting


Valley News Correspondent

Published: 12-21-2023 5:11 PM

THETFORD — The Selectboard this week declined to bring the issue of noncitizen resident voting to Town Meeting voters in March.

The issue was first raised at last year’s Town Meeting by Thetford resident and German citizen Heinz Trebitz, who noted that despite being named the town’s Citizens of the Year, neither he nor his wife, Inge, were able to vote in local elections.

The Selectboard took up the issue earlier this month, concluding at its Dec. 4 meeting that more research and consultation with the town’s attorney were needed.

On Monday night by a vote of 4-1, Selectboard opted against putting an article on the warrant.

Board member Li Shen acknowledged that the Trebitzs have contributed significantly to the town over their more than three decades of residence in Thetford.

However, “there are no barriers to them getting U.S. citizenship,” she said. “They’ve been here for donkey’s years. I don’t see why they can’t just apply for citizenship.”

Shen, who was born in London and became a U.S. citizen as an adult, noted that for people whose green cards are pending, the process toward citizenship moves more slowly.

In those circumstances, she believed it would be worthwhile to look into noncitizen local voting.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Selectboard Chairwoman Sharon Harkay noted that the towns in Vermont that allow noncitizen voting, Winooski, Montpelier and Burlington, have large immigrant populations. Without allowing legal residents the right to vote, ” they would be disenfranchising many, many people,” she said.

In Thetford’s case, she said that it’s not clear how many people would benefit from noncitizen voting.

But Selectboard member Steve Tofel said that this issue is more philosophical than technical.

“Do you think that people who live here who have contributed and who pay taxes here should have a voice in how their tax money is spent?” he asked.

Still, the discussion repeatedly returned to the issue of the Trebitzs, specifically.

“We’re not denying Heinz the ability to vote,” said Selectboard member David Goodrich. “He has chosen on his own volition not to vote. That road is wide open to him.”

Goodrich said that he thinks that deciding on noncitizen voting on the town level would be “a mistake,” and that it should be decided at the state level to allow for consistency.

Also at issue was the logistical hurdle that Thetford would face because it does not have a governing charter, which is the mechanism by which the three other Vermont municipalities were able to modify the state statutes at the local level to allow for noncitizen voting.

Shen noted that it only takes about 10 months for a green card holder to obtain citizenship, and it would take roughly two years for Thetford to push through a single-issue charter. The hurdle, then, is lower for the Trebitzs than it is for the town.

Steve Tofel made a motion “to place an article before the voters at Town Meeting asking whether they wish to petition the Legislature for a single-article governing charter to allow legal resident noncitizens to vote in town elections.”

Tofel’s was the only vote in favor.

Harkay initially abstained, but ultimately voted against the motion, saying that “in theory, I love the idea. In practicality, it’s a lot for everybody to go through when we only probably have two people that it would apply to, who may not even still be here when we ask this.”

Christina Dolan can be reached at