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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 Winner
Grades K-2 Honorable Mention
Grades 3-5 Winner
Grades 3-5 Honorable Mention
Grades 6-8 Essay Winner
Grades 6-8 Essay Honorable Mention
Grades 9-12 Essay Winner

 


K-2 Winner

Tom Young's 2nd Grade Class, Waitsfield Elementary

(5 outstanding entries below)


 

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Grades K-2 Honorable Mentions

Lauren Allen
Mrs. Plante's Kindergarten, Barre Town School

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Enrique Rodriguez
Mrs. Mille's Art Class, St. Johnsbury

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Kacey Thompson
Brad Bender's 2nd Grade, Rutland Northeast School

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Grades 3-5 Posters Contest on a Vermont History Theme:


Winner

Allison Babbitt
Ms. Senning's 3rd Grade, Underhill Central School
 

 

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Grades 3-5 Honorable Mention

Juliet Walsh
Mrs. Davenport's 5th Grade, Shelburne Community School

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Claire Armstrong
Ms. Giles' 4th Grade, Cornwall Elementary School

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Class Honorable Mention
Mrs. Martin's 5th Grade Class, Gilman Middle School
(5 outstanding entries below)

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Grades 6 to 8 Essay

 

Winner

Erin Connor
Mrs. Lori Fox's 7th Grade, Saint Mary's
 

VOTER'S OATH

     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 common good. 

     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 their ballots. 

     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.

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Grades 6-8 Honorable Mention

Will Adkisson
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 promises?

            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 through.

            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.


 


1 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/29/us/politics/29donate.html

 

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Grades 9 to 12 Essay
 


Winner


Brooke Connor
 Mr. Mooney�s 10th Grade Class, Middlebury High School
 

Voter Disenfranchisement

            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. 

            Interestingly, 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 not.  

            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 election process.

However, those 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.

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