Getting to 80 Percent

80EventlogoMay 3, 2018

A Symposium Advancing Voter Participation 

Harvard Kennedy School


A persistent and deeply troubling problem of American democracy is low voter participation. The US ranks 28th out 35 OECD countries in voting turnout--55 percent of voting age population in 2016. On the presumption that this is unacceptable, and we want the widest possible participation in American democracy, what would it take to seriously move the needle on this issue, to have 80 percent of Americans voting?  What policies could really work?  What cultural shifts do we need to make? How can new technologies and platforms be best utilized? How can young people become a new civic generation?

During a one-day intensive session at the Harvard Kennedy School, journalists and media, technologists, business leaders, elected officials, scholars, and grassroots advocates and organizers--all passionate about American democracy-- will convene to talk about pushing the envelope and sparking the cultural and policy shifts we will need to increase voter participation in a major way for our country’s future.  



Of the many aspects of this challenge, we’ve identified six major themes, each of which contributes differently to helping reach 80% voter participation.  Conversation, not presentation, will be central to each thematic session to enable networking and collaboration among diverse stakeholders, particularly across sectors.

Reimagining Participation: Creating a Culture Shift

We are entering a new era of civic engagement where influencers are creating new ways to inspire voters.  How can we continue to shift the way voting is perceived throughout sectors of society, from business leaders incorporating voting as a social responsibility to cultural influencers raising the profile of civic duty?  

Leading the Way: Technology and Social Media as Participation Innovators

Innovations in technology and social media have revolutionized the way citizens are informed and participate in democracy. How can we lift up what’s working and conceptualize ways for new technologies and social media platforms to encourage more voter participation?

The Change Generation:  Young Americans and Participation

We know that people become life-long voters when engaged in civic duty early in life.  Students are building momentum in turning their peers into voters.  How can we build on the momentum across college campuses and elsewhere in registering voters and how do we support their power to organize and achieve higher participation?

States at the Cutting Edge

Some states have adopted multiple policies to encourage voting, others lag way behind.  Can we lift up the examples of states who have achieved significant voter participation increases, looking at the technologies employed, the policies adopted, and the political and cultural conditions that made voter increases possible?

Closing the Participation Gap: Mobilizing Non-Voters

Do we know who is not voting and do we know why?  What strategies have been successful in engaging these voters and increasing their representation at the polls?  

The Policy Landscape: Universal Registration, Universal Voting

In addition to taking down the current barriers to voting, can we advance the conversation around policies to make voter registration truly universal?  Can we explore possibilities for putting the idea of universal voting into the public debate?


These are complex issues, and making a major change in participation rates won’t happen overnight.  We hope that by bringing a diverse mix of people who are all thinking big about how to make this happen, we can help advance the public discussion on these issues in a real way. We invite you to be part of this conversation. 

Symposium Leadership Team

TeresaTeresa Acuña
Associate Director Democratic Governance Program, Ash Center
Miles RapoportMiles Rapoport
Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy, Ash Center

This event is sponsored by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School; and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.  

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