POSTER AND ESSAY CONTEST - 2008 WINNERS
A selection of posters are available
below. All the winning posters are on display at the Secretary of State's
Office, 26 Terrace Street, Montpelier.
Grades K-2 Honorable Mention
Grades 3-5 Honorable Mention
Grades 6-8 Essay Winner
Grades 6-8 Essay Honorable Mention
Grades 9-12 Essay Winner
Tom Young's 2nd Grade Class, Waitsfield Elementary
(5 outstanding entries below)
Grades K-2 Honorable Mentions
Mrs. Plante's Kindergarten, Barre Town School
Mrs. Mille's Art Class, St. Johnsbury
Brad Bender's 2nd Grade, Rutland Northeast School
Grades 3-5 Posters
Contest on a
Vermont History Theme:
Ms. Senning's 3rd Grade, Underhill Central School
Grades 3-5 Honorable Mention
Mrs. Davenport's 5th Grade, Shelburne Community School
Ms. Giles' 4th Grade, Cornwall Elementary School
Class Honorable Mention
Mrs. Martin's 5th Grade Class, Gilman Middle School
(5 outstanding entries below)
6 to 8 Essay
Mrs. Lori Fox's 7th Grade, Saint Mary's
Well into the 20th
Century, all commissions and certificates in Vermont referred to the
State as “The Freemen of Vermont” in respect of Vermont’s historic
commitment to honoring the will of its people. This democratic slogan
is a tribute to our belief that the State is nothing more than a vessel
to facilitate the collaboration of citizens who make decisions for the
Indeed, when the Vermont
Constitution was drafted in 1777, it established the first government in
the Western Hemisphere to allow all men the right to vote, and to this
day, Vermont has some of the fewest restrictions on voting in the world.
Unlike most other states, for instance, Vermont allows convicted felons
to vote and has some of the simplest registration requirements.
But there is one unusual
restriction that no other place in the country has. Chapter 2, Section
42 of the Vermont Constitution requires that all voters take The
Freeman’s Oath, which reads:
You solemnly swear or affirm that whenever you give your vote
or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the state of Vermont, you
will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to
the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without
fear or favor of any man.
The Freeman’s Oath makes sense. It recognizes
that in order for democracy to work, those who participate in the
process must do so without being bribed, coerced, enticed, or improperly
influenced. Vermont requires that its voters promise to look into
their hearts and minds and come up with a reasoned decision when casting
Some argue that the oath is
meaningless because no one would admit to being bribed or coerced
anyway. Others question whether the oath goes too far, since husbands
and wives undoubtedly coerce each other into voting for a particular
candidate during the normal course of dialogue.
In spirit, however, the Oath
doesn’t apply to those who are influenced by thoughtful debate; indeed,
it is designed to spur thoughtful debate so that voters reach
independent conclusions. The Oath does require, however, that each
person become familiar with his/her ballot and the issues on it so that
they can honestly say that they voted with their conscience for the
“best good” of the State. This means that Vermonters agree not to call
a friend and ask, “Who do I need to vote for?” Vermonters also promise
not to vote for a candidate simply because a friend called and advised
them to do so.
While an oath will not deter
all people from voting for the wrong reasons, it serves to remind us of
how important voting is as a responsibility. It is a straightforward
reminder of our duty, and for some, it is a brief instruction manual on
what is expected of us as voters.
It would be impossible to objectively
prove that Vermont gets better results by requiring the Freeman’s Oath.
However, we certainly do not get worse results. More importantly, by
forcing every citizen to pause and take an oath, the State continues a
231-year-old voter education program which not only should remain, but
which should be adopted elsewhere.
Grades 6-8 Honorable Mention
Mrs. Babbitt’s 7th Grade, Brown’s River Middle School
I Solemnly Swear
Before the public of Vermont can vote, they
must swear an oath. “You solemnly swear or affirm that whenever you
give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that affects the state
of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge
will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the
Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.” Translated into
the ordinary language of someone who hasn’t memorized a thesaurus, it
basically means this:
“You shall vote for what you
think is best for Vermont, and you shall not be enticed to vote
differently. One more thing. No bribes.” But does this really mean
anything? Does swearing an oath improve the election? Or is the oath
just superfluous? Or something to be broken, like so many other
Influences are everywhere.
Candidates are on every kind of media you can imagine. Simplifying all
the speeches, all the press conferences, all the pamphlets: Vote for
me. Don’t vote for them. That message, when wrapped up in silk and
tied with a ribbon, definitely counts as something influencing your
vote. Barack Obama spent around $256,000 in Vermont this year, a lot
of which went into advertisements. Hillary Clinton spent $63,000.
1 Add in political
commentary, radio talk shows, and celebrity endorsements, plus friends
and relatives talking politics: The average Vermonter is being
bombarded with messages. But to stop them would be the first step
towards a dictatorship, taking away free speech. The only thing you’re
promising is not to take bribes. So how can you make a good decision
in all that pressure, oath or no?
The goal of American democracy
is for all those conflicting influences to cancel out, leaving the
voter with only raw information and the voter’s opinions. This can
never truly happen, obviously. But that’s why it is feasible to
campaign. In most cases, though, the voter’s natural selfishness or
selflessness will overrule the few surviving particles of
influences in their mind .
Most people, when given a
choice, will either do what’s best for them, or what’s best for the
public. This applies to voting. Some people vote to bring the country
out of national debt, or to combat global warming. Some people vote to
get tax cuts. Since voting is a way to voice opinions, whether they
formed their opinion for themselves or others doesn’t matter. What
matters is that it is their opinion.
It is impossible to promise not
to be influenced, since politics is about influencing people.
Influences come online, over radio waves, on TV. To not be
influenced is impossible. In that respect, the oath is useless. The
intent, to allow a fair and free election, is still there, though.
Intentions, whether benevolent or miserly, will almost always come
The oath is asking the
impossible. Like so many other promises in the world, it is made to be
broken. But although the oath doesn’t matter, it doesn’t need to. The
election will still be free, and fair, and just.
Grades 9 to 12
Mr. Mooney’s 10th Grade Class, Middlebury High School
Americans are often
accused of taking for granted their right to vote, and despite
admonishments by public officials, only about half of eligible Americans
vote in most elections. A century ago, Americans would have been
appalled to learn that their descendants passed up the chance to play a
role in our democracy. Indeed, women, minorities, and the poor
struggled for universal suffrage well into the 20th Century,
only to have their sons and daughters turn down the right that they
fought so hard to win.
Vermonters did not have many of the same struggles as other Americans.
In 1777, Vermont approved the first constitution in the Western
Hemisphere to give the right to vote to all men, regardless of whether
they owned property. Since then, our state has protected the rights of
its citizens with unusual zeal. While most states strip all convicted
felons of the right to vote, Vermont places very few restrictions on who
can vote. Chapter 2, Section 55 of the Vermont Constitution provides
that the only adults who cannot vote are those who receive “any gift or
reward” in exchange for a vote.
Chapter 2, Section 55 of
the Vermont Constitution serves a logical purpose. Anytime a person has
a financial outcome in an election, he or she cannot cast a ballot based
purely on conscience, and any voter who cannot vote based on conscience
is not acting in the best interest of society. Our democracy demands
that we give dedicated, thoughtful introspection to our decisions at the
ballot box because these decisions affect how public resources will be
used and will shape the direction of public policy. If we allowed
special interests to bribe citizens for their votes, then the will of
the rich and powerful would override the needs of the masses. While
many things may be for sale in Vermont - I am happy that votes are
Vermont is unusual in
that it does not prohibit persons convicted of felonies from voting.
Many states do not allow felons to vote because, they claim, a
conviction strips away the right to citizenship. This effect is to
punish men and women for life, in many cases for mistakes that they made
decades earlier. Moreover, those states imply that those convicted
somehow lack the ability to make meaningful contributions to the
states fail to realize that those who have been convicted and served
their sentences have repaid their debt to society, and as long as they
remain free and in compliance with the law, their opinions are also
important in our democracy. Disenfranchising people for their past
mistakes simply isolates them further, harms their rehabilitation, and
deprives society of their electoral contribution.
At first, it may
seem strange that Vermont allows a convicted murderer to vote, but
prohibits a voter from accepting a beer from a candidate. However, the
policy makes sense. Vermont has chosen to embrace voting as an
inalienable right and recognizes that both the voter and society have
much to gain from encouraging every adult to vote - as long as the vote
is made on conscience and not for pecuniary gain.