National Voter Registration Day

September 22, 2020
Voting stickers
Dear Harvard College Students,

Today I am writing to talk about one of my favorite activities – voting. You might be surprised to hear that it ranks up there with running along the Charles, swimming in the ocean, or reading a good book as things I like to do regularly. Like those other activities, it’s something I’ve been doing for longer than I care to admit. I remember standing in line to vote in my first presidential election in 1984, feeling a sense of awe and responsibility that I could participate in our democracy. I have literally never once missed the opportunity to vote, and since I turned 18, I have voted in every single election, for offices ranging from the local school board all the way to the Presidency. I also vote because some in our community do not have the opportunity to vote in an election here in the U.S., but the outcome of elections affects all of us.

Today is National Voter Registration Day, and we are partnering with the Institute of Politics on the Harvard Votes Challenge. Through this important initiative, we are committed to 100% eligible voter registration, engagement, and turnout across the entire Harvard community. This means faculty, staff, and you - students. I simply cannot say enough to emphasize the importance of voting, not just in this election but in all elections. I urge everyone who is eligible to vote not only because it’s your civic duty, or because every vote counts, or because, as the old saying goes “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” (Spoiler alert: all of those things are true.) I want you to join me in voting because it is both extraordinarily important and fun. Yes, voting is fun. Seriously! Whether you are dropping an envelope in the mail, participating in early voting where you are, or standing in line with your neighbors, it’s an activity that is as exciting the 15th time as it is the first.

Voting is one of those activities that simply doesn’t get old. Think about the decisions that are made every day in this country that impact us in ways large and small. Everything from how money is allocated to public universities, to the construction of a new rail line, to the timely issue of the appointment of Supreme Court Justices – all can be traced back to the people we elect to represent us in our government through our votes. We are incredibly lucky to be able to have a say in the things that impact us, and I urge you not to sit on the sidelines. If you are eligible, check your voter registration today and if you need to, register to vote. Think not just about yourself but about those around you as you make this important decision.

For many of you this will be the first time you vote, and for an even greater number of you this will be the first time you vote in a presidential election (more than 15 million young Americans have turned 18 since the last presidential election!) Make sure to check your voter registration status for each election cycle and request a mail ballot or make a plan to vote in person. You can do all of this through the Harvard Votes Challenge's Pledge to Vote Form.  

It can be easy to look around at the world these days and feel a sense of frustration. You might feel like your values aren’t being represented, or that neither of the two major presidential candidates are perfect. I urge you to please not let this deter you. In fact, it should motivate you even further to cast a vote, as there are likely local, state, and national races that have an impact on the communities many of you call home.

I’m going to end today with a quote from Susan B. Anthony, which is one of my favorites: “Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” Many things that matter are at stake, and for those who can vote, I urge you to use that vote.

If you are not sure whether or not you are registered, how to register, or how/where you can vote, please visit today. Thank you.

Kind regards,

Katie O’Dair
Dean of Students