Most Americans already know for whom they will cast their ballot for president, and there is little that can happen to change their minds. But more than the presidency must be decided by Nov. 3. From choosing how to vote during the pandemic to understanding the ballot initiatives to familiarizing yourself with candidates for the many lesser races, there is plenty of work to be done in October.
To help with that, Voter Education Week kicks off on Monday. Part of the Harvard Votes Challenge, a University-wide nonpartisan effort organized by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics and Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the five-day event breaks down the process into a different focus daily: on the history and importance of voting, the mechanics of casting a ballot by mail or in person, making a plan to vote, and getting to the bottom of the initiatives.
Voting is a University priority from the top down. Speaking at the First-Year Convocation in September, President Larry Bacow said, “If you are eligible to vote, we expect you to register, to inform yourself of the candidates and the issues, and to cast a ballot.”
The campus is well on its way. “What’s exciting is our polling at the Institute of Politics demonstrates that more and more young Americans are engaged in politics,” said Mark Gearan, its director. The numbers back this up: In the 2018 midterm elections, the voter participation rate among the eligible citizen student population more than doubled to 48.6 percent from just 23.6 percent in 2014 — surpassing the national average of 40.3 percent.
There’s still a gap, however. Although 48.6 percent of eligible students voted, 75 percent were registered to vote. “The idea of this initiative is to bridge this gap, from registering to vote to actually casting a ballot,” explained Gearan. “Given the pandemic, it is a complicated process.”
Harvard’s Voter Education Week — part of the National Voter Education Week project — will begin Monday with the theme #VoteReady. The goal is to help eligible voters register or check their registration status. Tuesday is #MailReady, requesting and understanding each state’s requirements for mail-in voting. Wednesday, #VotePlanReady will focus on in-person voting, which has grown more complicated as the pandemic has closed some voting places and placed restrictions on others. Thursday, #BallotReady connects voters with information and resources about issues on the ballot, many of which are state- or locale-specific. Closing out the week, Friday is #WeReady2020, empowering voters to make a plan to vote or volunteer and also engage and activate friends and family to cast ballots.