West Virginian’s legacy: More younger voters

During the Democratic National Convention earlier this month in Charlotte, N.C., Rod Snyder predicted that young voters would be a deciding factor in this year’s presidential vote.

Snyder, the national president of Young Democrats of America and a political devotee since his childhood in Shenandoah Junction, can tick off issues he believes will persuade younger voters to side with Barack Obama this fall.

Of course if you ask Jerry Mays, Craig Blair or other Eastern Panhandle residents who traveled to Tampa, Fla., in late August for the GOP’s national convention, they’ll detail why it makes sense for young voters to help send Mitt Romney to the White House.

For nearly three decades, both in Congress and in the Senate, West Virginia’s Jennings Randolph lobbied to lower the voting age
from 21 to 18. He first introduced the measure in 1942 during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (shown with him here at a picnic).

We say, whatever a young person’s political inclinations may be, the importance of casting a vote Nov. 6 cannot be stressed enough.

As West Virginians, we should be leading the call to get every eligible young person interested in the political process and to the polls in November. It’s clearly good for our country to have a large, informed, involved electorate and as West Virginians, we can take a special pride in remembering that it was a Mountain State lawmaker who fought for decades to give 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds the right to vote.

Young people, the late Jennings Randolph once said, “possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world, and are anxious to rectify those ills.” He first called for a lower minimum voting age in 1942, just after the start of World War II.

Soldiers fighting abroad ought to have a say in their nation’s governance, argued Randolph, a native of Salem in Harrison County, whose father and grandfather both served as the town’s mayor. He died 14 years ago at age 96.

He was named for William Jennings Bryan, the famed orator who at the time of Randolph’s birth just had lost the second of two hard-fought presidential elections to Republican William McKinley.

West Virginia voters sent Randolph to Congress in 1932 amid Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s landslide, and at the time of Randolph’s death in 1998, he was the sole survivor from those historic first 100 days of FDR’s New Deal. He left Washington for a time to work in the private sector, but began serving in the Senate starting in 1958.

By the time he left office in 1985 – replaced by fellow Democrat Jay Rockfeller, who still serves – Randolph was nationally known for pushing for causes related to aviation, including the creation of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum; for an early affirmative-action set-aside for blind workers; and in 1946, for a Department of Peace.

He also was an 11-time sponsor of a Constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 18.

But it wasn’t until July 1, 1971, that the 26th Amendment was ratified – opening the door for the nation’s youngest adults to have a say in deciding laws and selecting leaders for local, state and federal governments.

Young voters today – and in fact, many of their parents, too – have grown up in a nation where 18-year-olds could vote, and it may feel tempting to take this right lightly.

Too often, young people express a desire to vote but – in part because they aren’t yet familiar with the process – don’t get registered by the deadline. If they’re away at college, many who are registered may not have a handle on the requirements of absentee vote, and miss out on taking part.

As their fellow citizens, we should all work this fall to encourage college students and other young voters to become active in our election process. Ask young people you know if they’ve registered to vote. (The deadline to register in time to take part in the Nov. 6 vote comes in less than a month – Oct. 16.)

Talk to students you know attending Shepherd University or other colleges. A terrific followup question to “How are you liking Morgantown?” is, “Have you asked your county clerk for an absentee ballot?” (That deadline is coming up fast, too. See the sidebar for details.)

Statistics show that once a person starts to vote, he or she tends to remain diligent about taking part in the civic process. Vote early, as the old saying goes, and vote often (i.e. every election cycle).

As West Virginians, voting from age 18 – and encouraging young people we know to vote, too – connects us to the legacy left by one of the state’s most-accomplished politicians, and even more important, it ensures that more Americans have a say in our country’s future.

Want to vote?

To be eligible to vote in West Virginia you must be:

• A United States citizen;

• A resident of the county where you register;

• At least 18 on Election Day; and not under conviction of a felony, including probation or parole; not under a court ruling of mental incompetence

To take part in the election on Nov. 6:

• First-time voters have less than a month to get registered.

• The deadline to register at your county courthouse is Oct. 16. Mailed registrations must be postmarked by that date.

What ID is needed to vote?

Those who registered by mail must take a current and valid photo ID or a copy of a current document with your up-to-date name and address to the polls the first time you vote.

What if I want to cast an absentee ballot?

• In West Virginia, registered voters may vote by absentee ballot for any of the following reasons:

• You attend school away from home

• Voting on Election Day is inconvenient

• You will be working or traveling on Election Day

• You will be working or traveling all 13 days prior to Election Day

• Your hours of employment make voting impossible

• You live another place during part of the year

• You have been given a job assignment and will be living outside of your county on Election Day

• You have health problems or a physical disability

• Your polling place is inaccessible to you

• You have been hospitalized because of an emergency and will be in the hospital or a care facility seven days leading up to and including Election Day

• You are under incarceration or detention in a jail or at home (though not for any felony or for treason or bribery in an election)

To apply for an absentee ballot, download and complete a West Virginia absentee ballot application (See the Forms section on the Jefferson County Clerk’s website, jeffersoncountyclerkwv.com/voter_registration.html) or request one from your county clerk. Mail the completed form to your county clerk. For this fall’s election, your application must be received Oct. 31.

Once you’ve gotten your absentee ballot, complete it, sign where indicated and mail your ballot back to the clerk’s. It must be postmarked by Election Day.

Another option: Early voting

Can’t make it to the polls to vote between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 6? Don’t qualify for an absentee ballot? Another option is West Virginia’s no-excuse early voting, open to any registered voter, for any reason.

The early voting period begins Oct. 24 and continues through Nov. 3 at the Jefferson County Courthouse from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No early voting is offered on Sundays, but it is available on Saturday, Oct. 27.

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