CHARLESTON – The Secretary of State’s office will soon begin hosting the first high school students to be recognized by the new Honorary Secretary of State for the Day program.

Pictured (from left to right) Row 1: Rachel Dorsey, Hannah Grim,, Hannah Caldwell, Ozan Ozbeker, and Brad Bordelon. Row 2: Bethany Winters, Andrew Willis, Secretary of State Mac Warner, Erin Dodd, and Madison Settle.
Pictured (from left to right) Row 1: Rachel Dorsey, Hannah Grim,, Hannah Caldwell, Ozan Ozbeker, and Brad Bordelon. Row 2: Bethany Winters, Andrew Willis, Secretary of State Mac Warner, Erin Dodd, and Madison Settle. | Photo by Steven Adams.

Beginning in March, 12 high school students from across the state will visit the state capitol on their appointed day to meet legislators and Secretary of State Mac Warner, sharing their experience with classmates live via social media.

“I feel honored to have been chosen,” Bethany Winters, senior at Liberty High School in Clarksburg and an Honorary program recipient, told The West Virginia Record. “It is encouraging me to work harder at getting out the vote so that young people can stand up for their own rights.”

Warner believes in the importance of encouraging millennials to get involved in government.

“We’re being challenged to find ways to keep our young people here in West Virginia,” Warner told The West Virginia Record. “Encouraging them to get registered to vote and giving them a voice in their local and state government is an important goal for our office.”

The Honorary program expands upon the Jennings Randolph Award, which recognizes West Virginia high schools that enroll 100 percent of their eligible voters. The award is named for the late U.S. senator from West Virginia who helped lower the voting age to 18 in 1971. The Honorary program will shine a light on students who make impressive strides in voter registration but fall short of the Randolph Award’s perfect enrollment requirement.

“A school may not get to 100 percent, but that does not negate the value and activity of the students,” Michael Queen, deputy chief of staff for external affairs and director of communications for Warner, told The West Virginia Record. By next year, the Secretary of State’s office plans to expand the program to 50 students.

The Honorary program was announced during the recent A Day at the Capitol visit by high school students who are active in the Inspire West Virginia program and were being recognized for their work in registering 1,500 young voters last year. The Secretary of State’s office has been working closely with Inspire West Virginia because they share the common goal of getting young people involved in government at all levels.

Inspire West Virginia was established three years ago and is part of Inspire U.S., a program founded in Arizona in 2013 with the goal of giving young people a voice in government. By 2014, the program was in seven states.

Chelsea Costello, program manager for Inspire U.S. and organizer of the group’s West Virginia chapter, is also a Charleston resident. She was familiar with the Randolph Award and saw it as an obvious partnership.

“The award was established but no one was really doing work on the ground to make sure schools knew it existed,” Costello told the West Virginia Record. “So we were the missing piece that helped support students. We created the peer-to-peer (voter registration) in high schools. This has been much more successful than what West Virginia had been doing in the past, which was county clerks going to high schools.”

Costello said West Virginia Inspire’s voter registration and get out the vote efforts are already paying off. The turnout for the 2016 state primary among 18 to 20-year-olds was 35 percent, compared to just 11 percent for the same age group in the 2014 primary.

“We believe if we give (students) a voice in the government that’s controlling the future, maybe they’ll stay and encourage their friends to stay,” Queen said. 

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