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Topics / Voting Rights

How to Expand Voting Rights: Toward Full Electoral Participation

Novel and creative ideas are needed to fight voter suppression. Could universal civic duty voting be the answer?

A new report proposes universal civic duty voting as an indispensable and transformative step toward full electoral participation, a key to increasing the representativeness of elections while mitigating voter suppression efforts. Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting, from the Working Group on Universal Voting, stakes out voting “as a civic responsibility no less important than jury duty.” Convened with the support of Carnegie Corporation of New York by the Brookings Institution and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School, the working group envisions a society where citizens are able to perform their most basic civic duty with ease, without obstruction or suppression.

The preamble to Lift Every Voice lays out the case: “Members of our working group undertook this work to fight back against legal assaults on voting rights guarantees and the proliferation of new techniques and laws to keep citizens from casting ballots. We did so mindful of the public’s declining trust in our democratic institutions. We joined together to end a vicious cycle in which declining trust breeds citizen withdrawal which, in turn, only further increases the sense of distance between citizens and our governing institutions.”

While the report allows that nearly two-thirds of Americans currently oppose mandatory electoral participation, about half of the country is “open to persuasion,” creating room for a novel concept that has never been advanced in any organized way. Lift Every Voice — the result of an 18-month collaboration — is aimed at initiating discussion around the idea of universal civic duty voting, with the ultimate goal of making the election system more voter-friendly.


Lift Every Voice: The Webinar
On July 20, 2020, Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution and The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School cohosted a webinar to cover the key takeaways from Lift Every Voice, the report on civic duty voting. Panelists discussed the current state of our election system and transformative steps lawmakers can take to increase turnout and make our elections truly representative.

Download the full PDF report:


TOP: Voters get a sticker after casting their ballots on Election Day at the Red Oak Fire Department on November 4, 2014, in Red Oak, Iowa. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)