CLARKSBURG -- "The ballot is stronger than the bullet."
Secretary of State Joe Manchin quoted those resounding words of Abraham Lincoln at Liberty High School Thursday morning.
In Manchin's estimation, the words uttered by Lincoln in 1856 in Bloomington, Ill., are just as important today.
Especially at places like Liberty High School.
Manchin was in Clarksburg to present the Jennings Randolph Award to the school, for its outstanding effort in getting students registered to vote.
Last year, Liberty registered 100 percent of its 2001 senior class to vote, prior to graduation in June. That was approximately 130 students, said Principal David Book.
Only six other schools in the state received the Jennings Randolph Award, for exemplary voter registration efforts, Manchin said.
"You can lead by example," he told the students. "The challenge to this generation is to keep freedom alive. The government does depend on you."
Manchin discussed his office's voter education program and called the voter apathy in the country "a crisis."
West Virginia ranks 44th in the nation in voter participation, he said. Only 47 percent of eligible voters in the state participate in elections, and 400,000 West Virginians aren't even registered to vote, Manchin said.
"That's unacceptable. I'm betting you can change it," he said. "If all the state's eligible 22,000 high school seniors voted, it would turn the political system upside down."
Manchin also visited Bridgeport and Lincoln High schools to continue his campaign against voter apathy. The top five states with the highest percentage of voter participation all have early intervention education programs in the schools.
Liberty students are living up to their school's name, by doing their part to preserve freedom by voting. Students are anxious to participate in the May primary.
"We saw in the last presidential election that every vote counts," said senior Megan Burr, who was registering. "It's very important for the younger generation to vote, if we want to have a voice in government."
Liberty tries to encourage patriotism and somehow it results in students registering to vote, Book said.
County Clerk Sylvia Basile visits the schools every year to help get students registered. She was impressed with the school's participation last year.
The Jennings Randolph Award is named for the former West Virginia senator, who is considered to be the father of the 26th Amendment. That amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.
Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.