W.Va. shouldn’t be dead-last in voting

West Virginia lags behind the nation in so many important metrics. We’re one of the least-healthy states, with a high number of smokers or people who are overweight or have other  medical problems.

We’re also the “most miserable” state for the fifth year straight, a finding put together by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. It’s based on residents’ health, employment, education and the local environment.

And West Virginia ranks as the third-poorest state in the nation, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with median household income of $40,196, an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent and 17.8 percent of its residents below the poverty line. Compare us to our neighbor Maryland, the richest state in the country, where the median household income is $71,122, the jobless rate stands at just 6.8 percent and just 10.3 percent of residents live in poverty.

But while turning around the obesity epidemic, creating jobs that pay well and making gains in education all take long-term work, another West Virginia calamity – the state’s abysmal voter turnout – can be solved literally in a day, if only more West Virginians take time to vote on Nov. 4.

In the 2012 general election, West Virginia finished last in the nation in voter turnout. In no other state, the U.S. Census Bureau found, did less than half of eligible voters bother to make it to the polls.

And among West Virginians ages 18 to 24, the numbers were even worse – with fewer than 23 percent of eligible state residents casting votes in 2012. To see so few young people engaged in our democracy is a particularly sad development. It was, after all, West Virginian Jennings Randolph who led the fight to lower the nation’s voting age from 21 to 18.

Randolph, who died in 1998, had begun urging the Constitutional amendment to allow younger adults to vote not long after the United States entered World War II, but his dream didn’t become the law of the land until 1971. It’s his seat – now held by fellow Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who is set to retire in January – that voters will give either to West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the Democrat in the race, or Republican Congressman Shelley Moore Capito.

We urge West Virginians to make their voices heard on that Senate race, the Congressional seat Capito is vacating, the seats up for grabs in the state Legislature and all the other contests at stake this year.

There’s still time to get registered to vote. The deadline to sign up and take part in the Nov. 4 election comes Oct. 14. If you’re already registered, please consider taking time to talk with others you know about the importance of voting and urge them to sign up to vote if they haven’t and then to educate themselves on jobs, taxes, income inequality, raising the minimum wage, the environment, coal, abortion rights, abortion restrictions, access to affordable higher education, equal pay for women – whatever the issues are that matter most to them.

For West Virginia and the nation as a whole, the November vote may be one of the most important in a generation. It certainly shouldn’t be decided by only a handful of voters. We hope you’ll do your part.

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