Youth voter participation, political awareness on rise

Despite the traditional stereotype that young people are normally not interested or involved in politics, in recent years, young people across the country and the state have been leading efforts to increase political awareness amongst their peers, and their efforts are yielding results.

According to a recent press release from Secretary of State Mac Warner, in just under a year, from July 2018 to June 2019, 15,673 high school students registered to vote in West Virginia.

During that time, 1,614 students were registered to vote in Kanawha County; 1,241 in Berkeley; 817 in Wood; 727 in Jefferson; 715 in Monongalia; 711 in Cabell and 710 in Raleigh. A complete list for registrations in each county can be found online on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting website.

Additionally, since January 2017, a total of 128,704 new voters have registered across the state, including 36,000 high school students, largely as a result of an increase in nationwide and statewide initiatives and opportunities for youth participation in the political process.

One such initiative is known as Inspire-West Virginia. Inspire is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization with student voter registration programs in states across the country, including West Virginia, Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and soon North Carolina.

From 2014-2018, Inspire leaders from 321 high schools across the country helped nearly 80,000 of their peers and fellow students register to vote.

One of West Virginia’s Inspire leaders is Kristian Prince, a recent graduate of Scott High School in Boone County, and future student at Marshall University. Prince said as the semester begins this fall, she plans to major in business management with a minor in political science and entrepreneurship at Marshall.

Prince was one of 25 high school students from 16 different schools and 14 different counties across the state recently recognized as an Honorary Secretary of State by Secretary of State Mac Warner for her efforts to help her peers register to vote and get involved in politics.

Warner honored the students from West Virginia high schools participating in the Jennings Randolph Award program, which she said is an effort to encourage local students to become more civically and politically engaged.

Prince, who was also recognized as an Honorary Secretary of State last year for the award program, said much of her political involvement can be contributed to the help of programs and initiatives like Inspire-West Virginia, which she first learned about during her school’s Jennings Randolph Award presentation two years ago.

When she was younger, she was never very interested in politics, Prince said, but she began to become more interested as she learned more about issues impacting West Virginia and her hometown. It was around this time she started to get involved with Inspire-West Virginia, she said.

“Coming from a small town in West Virginia with almost nothing but income from coal, politics have become more important to the younger generation here,” Prince said. “As soon as I was able to register to vote I did so and started researching the candidates that were running.”

Prince said she wants to continue helping and encouraging those who have become disinterested or given up on politics to learn more about political decisions being made and their consequences. She said she hopes to continue becoming further involved in Inspire and similar initiatives like Marshall’s MU Votes in the future.

Being informed about political and current events and processes will be necessary for the generation of young people soon to be in power, Prince said.

“Things have changed in the last decade drastically, and the younger generation is the future of what our country will become,” she said. “It’s important that we also have a say in who is in charge and making our country’s decisions.”

Douglas Harding can be contacted at [email protected]