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MHS Student Runs for State Representative

Merrick Modun speaks at a climate action rally. Courtesy photo.
When Merrick Modun walked into city hall to register his candidacy for state representative, City Clerk John Odum had to do some investigation with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.

The question Odum did not have an immediate answer for was “Could Modun be on the primary and general election ballots as a candidate for election to the Vermont House of Representatives?” Modun, who currently serves as an appointed student representative on the Montpelier Roxbury School Board and is a member of Montpelier’s Complete Streets Committee, will be a high school senior in the fall — and celebrate his 18th birthday a few days after the general election on November 3.

“I haven’t had this come up before, but there’s no age requirement for someone to appear on the ballot,” Odum said after contacting the Secretary of State’s office. “Not even a requirement to be a registered voter, that would make it age 18 de facto.”

Will Senning, elections director in the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, said there is precedent for a candidate too young to become a registered voter to appear on the ballot. In 2018, Ethan Sonneborn, then a 14-year-old high school student from Bristol, Vermont, successfully petitioned to appear on the Democratic primary ballot in his run for governor. While Sonneborn lost in the primary, according to an article in VTDigger (Aug. 11, 2020) Sonneborn is “the youngest person in U.S. history to run a statewide race.”

Senning said neither the Vermont Constitution nor statute have a minimum age requirement to qualify to appear on the ballot. Residency and submission of specific forms and petitions are the legal requirements.

Having submitted the required documents, a form titled “Candidate’s Consent” and a petition with the required 50 signatures, Modun will appear on the primary ballot in August as a Democratic Party candidate.

Merrick Modun. Courtesy photo.
Why is Modun running? Modun believes the legislature is a place where the perspectives and concerns of youths need to be heard and engaged. A supporter of the Youth Climate Lobby, he has a broad range of concerns about the exodus of young people from Vermont when they graduate from high school. Noting Vermont’s aging population trend, Modus said “Youths don’t see a future here because they have more opportunities moving away. Vermont’s workforce shrank by 10,000 workers between 2009 and 2019, largely because of youths exiting it. Who was listening to them as they decided to leave?” he asks.

While Vermont has positive qualities as a beautiful and safe place to raise a family, “there’s a discrepancy between what people can make and what they can afford. Particularly with housing,” he said. Rising food and transportation costs only add to the challenge. “Zoning can be much more conscientious. When we are talking about new housing, we need to be looking at our empty spaces — like parking lots. Working virtually is changing the way we can use the land.” 

From his own experience as a student, Modun believes that opportunities for learning the skills required for working in the trades need to be more readily available in local schools. “There’s still a lot of pressure to attend college,” he said. “Tech and trades should not be a separate culture in school or the community.” 

As a member of the MHS debate team, Modun has an appreciation for research and a desire to apply it. In a draft position paper Modun wrote: “I hope that my representation in the Statehouse would push our legislature to act on the critical issues affecting our community. I come from a group whose interests have long gone unheard. By electing me, a young adult, to our legislature, we would be showing youths statewide not only that they now have a seat at the table, but also that their voices can be heard and actively represented.”