Harvard Institute of Politics

The Challenge

Develop a sustainable program that encourages 100% voter turnout among all Harvard University students.

The Impact

The Harvard Votes Challenge (HVC) is one of the nation’s most ambitious campus voter engagement campaigns with over 100 student organizers working to get-out-the-vote in an ongoing, systematic way each year. The program spans all 12 of Harvard’s degree-granting institutions.


  • Strategic Planning
  • Program Design
  • Workshops and Trainings
  • Partnership Recruitment and Management
increase in voter turnout from 2014 to 2018
undergrad pledges to vote in 2020
student organizers recruited
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The Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) engaged Impactual to support a small group of undergraduate student leaders in conceiving, pitching, securing resources for, and implementing an initiative to encourage students to vote. Harvard’s university-wide voter turnout rate in 2014 was an abysmal 22.4%. Knowing this rate could not be sufficiently buoyed by increased undergraduate participation levels alone, we developed a cohesive plan to reach students across Harvard’s 12 degree-granting schools, plus the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The student-led plan included an online voter registration prompt when registering for classes; in-person voter registration tables; residence-based organizing; email reminders to vote from the University; and faculty communications around National Voter Registration Day and Election Day.

The students obtained the initial budget for this program from the IOP and affiliated Centers, then successfully pitched Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow for support. In 2018, the voter turnout rate on campus more than doubled to 48%.

With added support from the Harvard University President’s Administrative Innovation Fund, the Harvard Votes Challenge expanded its program for the 2020 election, engaging numerous student organizations and athletic teams in voter engagement efforts. Additionally, HVC has reached beyond campus to initiate several coalition-style voter registration efforts with Boston universities and high schools, as well as the Ivy League.

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