Graduating seniors equal first-time voters

One of the most rewarding aspects of being Ohio secretary of state is traveling around Ohio to meet with high school students as part of my Grads Vote program. Through Grads Vote, we provide high school seniors with information about registering to vote for the first time and work to instill in them the importance of being active participants in our democracy.

This year, the Grads Vote program holds special meaning for me as my son Alex is turning 18 and graduating from high school. Like all graduates, Alex already has faced many important decisions about his future, such as when he wisely chose to attend college where his dad went – the University of Dayton. In addition, one of the most important decisions Ohio’s high school seniors will make is when they choose to register to vote and have a voice in deciding the issues that impact their lives.

Statistically speaking, registering to vote isn’t a priority for most 18-year-olds, but it should be. When visiting high schools, I talk to students about the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, as well as the circumstances prompting its ratification in 1971. The Vietnam War was under way and, although 18-year-olds could not vote, they were drafted to serve in the military.

The 26th Amendment enfranchised 11.4 million 18- to 20-year-olds who wanted to have a say in our democracy and on issues that were impacting their lives. Forty years later, the right to vote at 18 is a given, but how it became a right is often forgotten. Grads Vote tries to change that.

If young adults want their voices heard, voting is the way we express ourselves in a democracy. While they may not have to worry about being drafted into war today, issues such as the national debt and how America confronts it will impact their lives and the lives of their families.

As I have visited with thousands of high school students around Ohio, I have great confidence they will rise to the occasion as our future leaders; but, we can help them prepare to meet this challenge. I encourage all parents, friends and family of graduating seniors this year to take the time to explain the importance of exercising their right to vote and making it a priority for life.

Jon Husted,

Ohio secretary of state