Citizen Participation

As we recently passed the 150th anniversary of West Virginia becoming the 35th state, a great deal has been written and spoken about the ideals that led to that memorable event.

This anniversary has brought fourth a remarkable amount of interest in the love of this Union that drove West Virginia residents – our ancestors – to make the unprecedented political and social statement they did by breaking free of Virginia’s domination to forge their own path.

However, it would boggle the minds of these ancestors to learn, then, that West Virginia ranked dead last in voter turnout during the 2012 general election. In fact, ours was the only state in which fewer than half of eligible voters headed to the polls in November. Fewer than one-fourth of 18- to 24-year-old voters made the effort.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant attributed some of this apathy to the lack of face-to-face contact with the candidates. “We were overlooked by both sides of the presidential candidates for obvious reasons,” she said. And, of course, President Barack Obama’s unpopularity here kept some voters away from the polls.

Of course, voters’ behavior has given future candidates little reason not to continue to overlook the state.

West Virginians who could not be bothered to care enough to vote in November may find themselves caring a great deal, now.

So, let us carry away from this year’s celebrations more than just the memory of fireworks displays and historical lectures. Today’s West Virginians also should carry away a reminder of the importance of citizen participation in the political process.

That is the most valuable gift given us by those who came before. It should not be squandered.