Policy initiatives could help raise voting rates, Fung said, but changing civic culture is also key.
“How can we get companies and schools and other kinds of organizations to think that it’s part of their civic responsibility to encourage full participation?” he said. Fung added that we also need to change the idea of voting “from a chore to a celebration.”
As an example of what organizations can do, Fung cited the Kennedy School’s commitment this year to get 90 percent of its voting-eligible students to register.
Kathryn Peters, co-founder and chief operating officer of Democracy Works, discussed her organization’s TurboVote web platform, which seeks to increase voting by providing people with voting information specific to their geographic area.
Because voting procedures vary across the country, Peters said, “With TurboVote, we’ve built effectively a voter concierge that lets anyone walk through and find the process to be as understandable and welcoming as possible.”
Peters said she has seen the value of online relationships in spurring people to vote.
“Snapchat deciding that they were going to be excited about voting this year is possibly one of the biggest stories in the 18- to 23-[year-old] new-voter demographic that I can think of,” she said.
Corley Kenna, senior director of Global Communications and Public Relations for Patagonia, described the outdoor retailer’s efforts to promote voting.
“Our company culture is a lot about being responsible stewards of our resources but also being responsible citizens and … one of the most important responsibilities that we have in our society is voting,” Kenna said. This election season, “We are talking to our community about how democracy requires showing up.”
As it did in 2016, the company is also closing its stores and giving employees Election Day off to send the message that “it’s more important to vote than to shop” that day, Kenna said. It also helped launch a campaign in which 300 companies have pledged policies that ensure that employees have time to vote.
John Horton, senior manager of East Coast community affairs for Lyft, outlined how the ride-hailing company became involved in boosting voter turnout.
“We’re all about solving problems,” he said, and since lack of transportation can be a barrier to voting, “we thought, here is a problem we can easily attack.”
Lyft this year is offering discounted rides to the polls, and partnering with nonprofits to offer free rides in underserved communities. The company is also closing part of its corporate offices on Election Day, and has registered 16,000 new voters.
Fung asked his fellow panelists what strategy they would advocate to meet the 80 percent voting goal. Peters said she would support Civic Nation’s #VoteTogether program, which throws parties during election seasons.
“That idea of having it festive, of civics not being dour, is really important,” said Peters, who would also like other states “to adopt a voting system that looks like Colorado,” which combines mail-in balloting and other measures to make voting easy.
Horton said educating people about where and when to vote, and setting uniform election dates, would be important.
Kenna said she would like to see a uniform, mail-in ballot system across the country and to make Election Day a national holiday where “we celebrate our democracy and the fact that it works when we vote.”