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Harvard Votes Challenge Calls on Undergrads to Beat Yale — at the Ballot Box

Silliman College
Silliman College is one of Yale's undergraduate residential colleges.
With the Game just over a month away, Harvard and Yale undergraduates have found a new way to channel the competitive fire it inspires: the Harvard-Yale Votes Challenge, which pits the two institutions against each other to see which college can collect the most pledges to vote.

The challenge, announced on both campuses Tuesday, aims to increase voter turnout by getting students to commit to voting. Harvard Votes Challenge and Yale Votes — a coalition of over 50 student organizations — jointly planned the Harvard-Yale Votes Challenge in an effort that began over the summer.

“Here at Harvard, young people have been really excited about this upcoming election,” Harvard Votes Challenge co-founder Theodore N. Landis ’20 said. “Unsurprisingly, people at Yale were also very excited. We thought it would be really exciting to challenge each other to increase our voter participation rates.”

Landis started talking with Jordan Cozby, president of the Yale College Democrats and an organizer with Yale Votes, while both were in Washington, D.C. for the summer.

Cozby said they drew inspiration from similar initiatives like SoCon Votes, which challenges schools in the Southern Conference to vote.

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“Other rival schools have done similar things, so thinking about doing it between Harvard and Yale could be a really excellent idea,” Cozby said.

In 2016, 77.6 percent of Harvard’s undergraduates were registered to vote, and 57.8 percent of students voted in the presidential election, according to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement. Meanwhile, Yale’s voter registration rate was 79.3 percent, though its actual voting rate came in slightly lower than Harvard’s at 56.7 percent.

However, midterm elections typically see significantly lower turnout. In 2014, the NSLVE reported that the average voting rate across all surveyed institutions was just 18.8 percent.

Given the dismal numbers, the HVC and Yale Votes organizers hoped that putting a competitive spin on pledging to vote would spur students into action, avoiding a similar midterm slump this year.

“There are research studies that have shown that if you commit to vote — whether it’s a paper pledge or an online pledge — and you’re reminded of it about two weeks before the election, then you’re more likely to actually go out and vote,” said Harold Ekeh, a co-founder of Yale Votes and the president of get-out-the-vote initiative Every Vote Counts.

Cozby said the timing worked out well given that students have to get their tickets to the Harvard-Yale game in the month before Election Day.

“I think that the Harvard-Yale Game is one of the most special times of year, because it’s when we really see all Harvard students coming out to show spirit for their school,” Landis said. “This is another opportunity for that spirit to show.”

Ekeh said the winner of the challenge would be the school with the most pledges to vote by Nov. 6. “But the overall measure of how effective this initiative has been will be through the NSLVE report,” Ekeh said.

Ultimately, “the goal is to change the culture around voting to be more of a celebration of this incredible civic duty,” he added.

—Writer Simone C. Chu can be reached at simone.chu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @simonechu_.

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