by James Fisher
Statewide, the 2000 general election saw one of the lowest voter turnouts in recent history -- and that bothers Secretary of State Joe Manchin.
"I want West Virginia to be the most patriotic state. We have more veterans per capita than any other state; we've fought in more wars, shed more blood and lost more lives. But when it comes to voting, we're not there," Manchin said Friday at a meeting with Harrison County educators.
Manchin met with school officials to discuss a program designed to get school children educated about their responsibilities to the electoral system, Manchin said. The program, called West Virginia Shares, will use volunteers to come into schools and talk to elementary school children about their life experiences, he said.
"What we want is to have a living history class to get the children to understand the process," he said. "Children in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades are the greatest communicators. If they get excited about something, they go home and tell their parents and maybe get them excited as well."
Harrison County School Superintendent Dr. Carl Friebel said Manchin's proposed program will take a three-pronged approach -- the living history classes for elementary school children, annual mock elections for middle school children and registering high schoolers who are eligible.
"What we're going to do here is make sure that what he is proposing fits in with the instructional goals on the county level," Friebel said. "We're honored that he picked Harrison County to start with."
Manchin said Friday that before he takes any proposals to the state Board of Education, he wants to make sure that the programs are feasible on the local level.
Manchin noted that there are about 1.8 million residents of West Virginia, 1.4 million of whom are eligible to vote. However, only about 1 million are actually registered.
"I see it as a lack of education. We as parents and educators have failed to educate the public on their responsibility to vote and protect democracy," he said.
Part of the problem, Manchin said, is an intimidating and archaic registration system and the lack of a state-wide uniform voting system. Manchin has put together a task force to study the possibility of instituting a uniform voting system and also working on a Legislative registration reform package.
Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.