Civic Activity

Young West Virginians Early Adopters of Online Voter Registration

Photo by Tim Franklin Photography/FlickrCC

Photo by Tim Franklin Photography/FlickrCC

West Virginia’s new online voter registration system has been popular with young people. Nearly 60 percent of West Virginians to register to vote using the new online system so far are under 40. 

In September 2015, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant rolled out an online voter registration system, which in other states has been successful in increasing voter registration and turnout.

According to data supplied by the Secretary of State’s office, between September 2015 and August 2016, the new online voter registration system registered 20,990 new voters.

Eighteen-year-olds were the highest percentage of any age group to register online.

As of June 2016, 31 states plus the District of Columbia had instituted online voter registration systems. Seven other states have passed legislation allowing online voter registration but were still working on implementation.

Nearly 60 percent of West Virginians to register to vote using the new online system were under 40. Eighteen-year-olds alone accounted for 1,154 of the online registrations, the highest percentage (5.5 percent) of any age group to register online.

The online voter registration system meets young people where they are on a regular basis – the internet.

In 2012, West Virginians aged 18-to-24 voted at the lowest rate of any age group in the country.

In the 2014 midterm elections, West Virginia failed to turnout even half of its registered voters. Across the United States in 2014, youth voter registration and turnout rates were the lowest ever recorded in a federal election.

However, nearly 70,000 Mountaineers aged 17-to-29 voted in the 2016 West Virginia primaries, a notable increase from previous years.


Registering young voters in school, online

This year, students in West Virginia will be able to register to vote at school, using tablets, phones and laptops to access the new online voter registration portal.

Inspire West Virginia is a nonpartisan organization with a mission of encouraging young people to vote and be engaged in their community.

Inspire West Virginia is the most successful of the six state Inspire chapters across America. The three Charleston-based Inspire West Virginia staff members, with the help of 67 Inspire student leaders from 25 schools across the state, registered 2,600 new voters in the 2015-2016 school year, the most of any Inspire chapter in the nation.

Secretary Tennant has been working closely with Inspire West Virginia in recent years to help 17 and 18 year olds register to vote.

The new online voter registration system will be instrumental in registering students to vote in the 2016-2017 school year.

It was actually in a school – Nitro High School – that Secretary Tennant unveiled the online system in September 2015. Nitro was one of 11 schools to receive the Randolph Jennings Award, given by the Secretary’s office to schools that register 100 percent of their graduating senior class to vote. The award is aptly named for the U.S. Senator from West Virginia, Randolph Jennings, who in the early 1970s was a lead advocate for the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.

In 2016 student leaders will begin utilizing the new online registration system to register fellow students via voter drives at their schools, carrying around tablets, phones and laptops to register students rather than the paper mailing cards they had used up until now.

Ahead of the November 8 election, people are reminded that West Virginia law requires voters to register 21 days before the election takes place, so you must be registered by October 18, 2016 in order to cast your vote. Early voting will begin October 26 and run through November 5.

Who To Talk To:

West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office
Email: Communications Director Briana Wilson

Inspire West Virginia
Email: Program Coordinator Kathryn Long

Related Content:

New Survey Ranks Political Issues Most Important to Young West Virginians

Rock the Vote: Strong Youth Voter Turnout for Primaries


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