Editorial: Voting is a precious right, and being registered is first step

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

What should be one of the more valued freedoms of United States citizens is their ability to vote for the candidates they want to represent them in government, whether at the local, state or federal level. It’s a shame, however, that many Americans don’t fulfill that civic responsibility, thus forfeiting their voice in determining who holds the elective offices that can affect their lives.

As the Nov. 8 general election approaches, it’s not too late for those in West Virginia who have shied away from the electoral process to reverse course and become a participant in that election. But first, they must be registered to vote, and time to do that is running out quickly.

The deadline for eligible West Virginia residents to register as voters so they can cast ballots in the general election is 4 p.m. today: Tuesday, Oct. 18.

To accomplish registration, residents can go to their county clerk’s office. In Cabell County, the county clerk’s office is located in the county’s courthouse at 5th Avenue and 8th Street, and the office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Voters also have the option of registering to vote, or change parties or update their addresses, by going online to the Secretary of State’s office website, www.sos.wv.gov, and click on the “Elections” link. However, in two counties – Cabell and Kanawha – an online application to register to vote still will require a voter to visit the county clerk’s office.

Recent voter registration numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office suggests that more people are preparing to vote in this year’s election compared with the last presidential election. As of July, 1,250,079 people had registered to vote in West Virginia, compared with 1,234,367 who were registered for the 2012 general election. That’s an encouraging sign, and means that about 85 percent of the Mountain State’s voting-age population has registered to vote, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s far better than the national average, according to research by the Pew Research Center.

Of course, the action of registering to vote doesn’t necessarily mean people will head to the polls on election day. U.S. turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 53.6 percent, based on 129.1 million votes cast and an estimated voting-age population of just under 241 million people, Pew reported. In the 2012 presidential election in West Virginia, the number of ballots cast in the presidential race was 670,438, or only about 54 percent of the state’s registered voters that year.

So voter participation remains a challenge.

Admittedly, polls indicate that a significant portion of voters aren’t enthused by either candidate in the bitter and nasty presidential race this year, but there are many more races on the ballot that merit voters’ attention. So we encourage voters to exercise their right to vote and use their voice at the ballot box to help shape the future of their city, state and federal governments.

But the first step is to make sure you’re registered to vote.

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