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Authors Call for the U.S. to Implement Universal Voting at Harvard IOP Forum

Pictured from left, Christine Chen, E.J. Dionne Jr., Miles Rapoport, and Cornell William Brooks spoke at a Harvard Institute of Politics Forum on Thursday.
Pictured from left, Christine Chen, E.J. Dionne Jr., Miles Rapoport, and Cornell William Brooks spoke at a Harvard Institute of Politics Forum on Thursday. By Courtesy of the Institute of Politics
By Jonathan A. Cosgrove and Tarah D. Gilles, Contributing Writers

Political columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. ’73 and former Connecticut Secretary of State Miles S. Rapoport ’71 laid out the case for universal voting at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Thursday evening.

During the panel, which was moderated by IOP fellow Christine Chen and HKS professor of the practice Cornell William Brooks, Dionne and Rapoport discussed their new book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting,” which came out last month.

“We think this is just the next step to say we want to consult everybody and we think if we consult everybody, we will have a more representative electorate,” Dionne said of a universal voting requirement.

The authors pointed to Australia as a country that has successfully mandated voting.

“We lean a lot on the experience of Australia,” said Dionne, a longtime journalist who now serves as a columnist for the Washington Post. “What they have done in Australia is create a culture of voting, and they have also given us a proof of concept. Australia has required people to vote for 100 years.”

The authors argued the United States should make voting mandatory, along the lines of other civic duties, pointing to jury duty.

Dionne said the policy would increase the number of participating young voters.

“We will have a more forward-looking country because one of the largest groups underrepresented in the electorate are young people right now,” he said. “If young people were required to vote, the system would have to bend itself to make it easy for them, not to make it harder for them.”

Rapoport, who serves as a senior practice fellow at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said he and Dionne have a “three-part strategy” to push for universal voting — including making it part of the “robust and growing democracy movement” in the U.S.

“There really is a pro-democracy movement that has generated and grown over the last 20 years,” Rapoport said. “Our hope is that the idea of universal voting becomes one of the planks.”

Cat G. Huang, who attended the panel, praised the event for the “diversity of thinkers and moderators” it featured. She added, though, that she remains “skeptical of voting as a requirement.”

“I would like to see how these policies actually play out,” she said. “We see a lot of great ideas happening in politics and policy and reform that either fall flat or can be taken to an extreme.”

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