Honoring High Schools for Empowering Young Voters

By Jillian Welsh, WVEC Communications Coordinator

Meadow Bridge High School in Fayette County has consistently achieved 100% voter registration among eligible students, earning gold-level recognition every year since 2017. Photos by WV Secretary of State Office

In West Virginia, significant initiatives are in place to inspire and empower young people to register to vote and actively participate in the democratic process. The Jennings Randolph Award, named after the late U.S. Senator from Harrison County, West Virginia, and the Honorary Secretary of State (HSOS) program are not just beacons of hope, but transformative forces for high schools.  The programs celebrate those who go above and beyond in promoting youth voter registration, inspiring others to follow suit. These awards are a testament to the importance of youth engagement in our democracy and a call to action for all of us to do more.

Senator Randolph, the champion of the 26th Amendment, firmly believed that if young people were old enough to serve and sacrifice their lives for their country, they should also have the right to vote for the leaders who decide about military conflicts. His persistent efforts to lower the voting age to from 21 to 18, introducing a bill eleven times before finally succeeding in 1971, is an important reminder to never give up on a cause you believe in, even in the face of repeated setbacks.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s office created the Jennings Randolph Award in 1994 to recognize high schools with exceptional commitment to empowering their students to register to vote. To qualify for this honor, a high school must have at least 85 percent of its eligible students registered to vote. This high standard serves as a challenge and an inspiration for schools to prioritize civic education and encourage their students to participate actively in our democracy.

The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office also offers a program for high school seniors and juniors who are interested in state government and love civic engagement. The Honorary Secretary of State (HSOS) program recognizes students who are leaders in their high schools and have committed to registering, informing, and mobilizing their peers to vote.

Honorees of the HSOS program spend time in the Secretary of State’s Office shadowing the Secretary of State during a typical workday and learning about the office’s core functions. This venture encourages eligible high school juniors and seniors to register to vote, regardless of political affiliation.

By educating and motivating young people to register to vote, these high schools prepare their students to be informed and engaged citizens. Young voters hold the key to our future, and the Jennings Randolph Award and the Honorary Secretary of State program are powerful reminders of their crucial role in our democracy. By recognizing and rewarding high schools, the awards not only celebrate the present but also invest in the future of West Virginia.

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