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Getting to 80%, Ash Sets a Challenge for Increased Voter Participation

“Our democracy depends on voting,” said Archon Fung, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government and director of the Ash Center’s Democratic Governance Program, at the opening of an all-day symposium on increasing voter participation sponsored by the Ash Center; the Institute of Politics; and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. The event, “Getting to 80%: A Symposium Advancing Voter Participation,” convened on May 3 at Harvard Kennedy School and brought together journalists, technologists, business leaders, elected officials, scholars, and grassroots advocates and organizers to discuss how best to spark cultural and policy shifts needed to increase voter participation in the United States.
The US ranks 26th out 32 OECD countries in voting turnout for nationwide elections, with just 55 percent of the voting age population going to the polls in 2016. “That is not a proud statistic for a country that has been for some time in the business of trying export democracy,” said Fung during opening remarks. The event was an opportunity to discuss strategies for increasing voter participation rates to 80 percent of all eligible voters in the US, a figure reached by only a handful other countries.
Nearly 140 participants spent the day examining issues such as how to create a culture of voting, the roles of technology and social media in encouraging voter participation, strategies for engaging with younger voters, innovations in voter participation at the state level, mobilizing non-voters, and advancing universal registration and voting. “We heard a lot of very powerful ideas about how to turn these numbers around from simple policy fixes such as automatic voter registration and universal vote-by-mail to how best to elevate the way voting is perceived across all sectors of society,” reflected Miles Rapoport, the Ash Center’s Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy and an organizer of the conference.

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