A Nudge in the Right Direction

​The College is responding in a centralized manner to an issue that on-campus groups have sought to address for years.​

As Harvard students returned to campus this fall, they were presented the option of registering to vote as they completed a mandatory online check-in. By virtue of a collaboration between the Registrar's Office and the Institute of Politics, students could either register to vote or request absentee ballots using TurboVote voter registration software. The program proved a success, with 1,400 participants.

This initiative tackles a very real problem: The process of registering to vote can be complicated and daunting, especially for students, many of whom don’t vote in Massachusetts and may also be first-time voters. The University’s proactivity will help pare down the bureaucratic hoops students must jump through, which can oftentimes make the difference between voter apathy and participation.

These efforts at voter registration are not unprecedented. The Institute of Politics has been using TurboVote for years during campus-wide efforts to register students to vote. Similarly, partisan groups on campus have also made their own efforts by canvassing dorm rooms. Voter registration, however, is not a partisan cause, and the College is responding in a centralized manner to an issue that on-campus groups have sought to address for years.

This problem, however, is not unique to Harvard. Millennials—a demographic which includes college voters—now make up almost a third of the electorate. Despite the political power they wield, millennials are known for their low voter turnout. According to census data, only 46 percent of eligible millennial voters participated in the 2012 presidential election, a number that pales in comparison to 72 percent participation rate among eligible voters from the oldest generation of the electorate.

Given these unfortunate statistics, Harvard's goal of using this new program as a template for other institutions of higher learning seeking to bolster voter turnout is particularly commendable. Voter participation at Harvard aside, the possibility of nationwide reverberations as part of the IOP’s National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement make this initiative all the more worthwhile.


Democracy works best when more people are included, and the College’s voter registration efforts help to ensure this. The 2016 presidential election is highly polarized one, with candidates offering starkly different perspectives on the state of the nation and the direction it should pursue after President Obama leaves office. November’s results will play a large part in dictating the kind of future that young people will work towards in this country. In light of Harvard’s aspiration to educate responsible citizens and even the civic leaders of tomorrow, it is part and parcel of Harvard’s mission to encourage active democracy among its students at such a consequential moment in our history.


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