By C.V. Moore
OAK HILL —
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant personally delivered a few civics lessons to seniors at Oak Hill High School Wednesday in an attempt to inspire them to exercise their brand new right to vote.
“It’s a great day for democracy any time you can pull someone into the voting ranks of West Virginia,” she said.
The Secretary of State is West Virginia’s chief election official. Tennant works with county clerks to make sure the voting process runs smoothly and correctly. Part of her quest, too, is to encourage eligible West Virginians to vote.
She was joined by Fayette County Clerk Kelvin Holliday and several top seniors, or “voting ambassadors,” who passed out pens and registration forms during a special assembly.
Tennant bantered easily with the students, trying to instill in them the importance of their right to elect leaders.
“The youth are the future of our state — people say that all the time and sometimes we politicians use it as a line. But what does it really mean? What’s the responsibility in that? How are you going to make sure it’s a good future?” asked Tennant.
One senior, Tyler Hamilton, replied, “You’re going to have to vote. (...) to get bills passed and make reforms. I like to know what’s going on and if it’s something that’s wrong, I’m trying to see why it’s that way and what I can do to influence that.”
Tennant also spoke to the students about why it’s important to not sit back and become complacent in a democracy.
Like the time she challenged tradition and became the first female Mountaineer mascot at West Virginia University, even when people told her “to go back to the kitchen and make babies.”
Or the time Jennings Randolph, a U.S. senator from Harrison County, challenged the notion that only those 21 and over should have the right to vote.
Randolph first introduced an amendment to the Constitution to grant the right to vote to 18-year-olds during World War II.
“Jennings Randolph said that if you were old enough to fight and die for your country, then you should have the right to vote,” Tennant told the students. “Eighteen-year-olds were being told what to do but they didn’t have a voice to be able to say, ‘I want to elect a new member of Congress.’”
But the amendment didn’t pass. Nor did it pass the 10th time he introduced it. Not until his 11th attempt — nearly 30 years after his first proposal — did Congress make major amendments to the Voting Rights Act, including a lowering of the voting age.
"And now you have a voice,” said Tennant.
“Today is easy. Today is the fun stuff. The hard part is getting informed and going out to vote. Do you think you could do that? (...) For Jennings Randolph? For your state? How about for yourself?”
Holliday goes to every high school in the county each year, registering seniors for the vote. Next he’ll be at Valley High School.
“It’s an opportunity for the students to ask questions. We make it a challenge to not only sign up to vote, but to actually get out to vote,” he said.
Every once in a while he gets a special guest like Tennant to speak to the senior class.
Meadow Bridge High School has a remarkable record on registering 100 percent of its seniors each year. Holliday says it’s harder at larger school like Oak Hill High, which has a senior class of 198.
To register to vote, go to the Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.wv.gov; visit the County Clerk’s office at the Fayette County Courthouse from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays with a proof of physical address; or go to the DMV, any public assistance office, marriage license office, military recruiting office, or agencies that serve people with disabilities.
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