Area high schools win Jennings Randolph Award for voter registration efforts


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

MONTCALM — Almost three weeks from now, young Americans who registered to vote while in high school will be going to the polls for the first time in their lives and casting their ballots.

Thirty high schools across West Virginia are receiving the Jennings Randolph Award for Civic Engagement. Five of those high schools getting the award are in Raleigh, McDowell and Mercer counties. To qualify for this recognition, a high school must register to vote at least 85% of their senior class.

Montcalm High School in Mercer County and Mount View High School in McDowell County were both presented the Jennings Randolph Award along with Shady Spring High School, Victory Baptist Academy and Greater Beckley Christian School in Raleigh County.

Started by the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office in 1994, the Jennings Randolph Award commemorates West Virginia's late U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph's legacy as the father of the 26th Amendment. One of the defining moments in voting rights history, the 26th Amendment was passed in 1971. The amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner visited each school Wednesday and recognized Honorary Secretary of State students who were recommended by their principal for the special designation for leading the voter registration effort at their school. Each year, Warner hosts Honorary Secretaries of State for a day at the State Capitol during the legislative session to be recognized by the Legislature.

Warner told the students how Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who served with George Washington during the Revolutionary War, was only 18 at that time.

Students at each of the schools worked for months to register their seniors.

"They've been working at it pretty hard all semester," said Principal Beth Stone of Montcalm High School. "They started in the fall, but really ramped it up in the last couple of months. As of (Tuesday) I'm thinking 48 (students were registered to vote). The graduating class is 51 kids. We had to have 85%, but we made that with 41.We had a few seniors added in there. Then we had 10 to 15 juniors registered to vote. They'll be 18 before Nov. 5."

"So now we're already on target for next year," Stone said. "Our goal is to get 100%."

"One question a student asked me is 'Do we get to vote for the levy? They don't even know what the options are when they go vote," Stone said. "We talked about a couple of things. We talked about how to register for a party and how to vote in a primary, voting for the next president. They're excited about that part."

Preparations for the high school's upcoming prom were underway Wednesday in the gymnasium. Junior student Isaiah Fink was among the newly-registered future voters.

"Because everybody should have their own voice and their own opinion about who should be in office," he said. "It's good to put your opinion out there for everybody to see."

Student Sarah Pennington, who is also a junior, was among the new voters. She plans to go to the polls regularly.

"Well, the school levy's coming up. I want to vote on that," she replied when asked about why she registered. "As a U.S. citizen, it's important to state how you feel about things, so voting gives you an opportunity to do that."

Montcalm High School students Hunter Lewis and Faith Hodge were named Honorary Secretary of State for their efforts. Stone said they were the first students to register to vote and helped maintain the momentum to register their classmates. Hodge was unable to attend Tuesday's presentation.

"I think it's important," Lewis said. "Personally, I think it's a patriotic symbol that young Americans vote for who they want running the states."

— Contact Greg Jordan at

Contact Greg Jordan at