New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

Engaging Millennials: Changes to How We Vote and How We Organize

third party logo

January 27, 2014

That the future of American democracy lies with its young people underscores the urgent need for rebooting how we vote and organize. The millennial generation’s voter participation rates are wildly erratic, plunging to remarkably low levels in city elections and primary elections, and fluctuating erratically in state and federal elections. Voter registration rates in major parties are in steep decline even amid the most rigid partisan voting patterns in more than a century.

Central to the problem is our reliance on 18th century electoral laws, 19th century party models and 20th century systems of political communication. Four of the nation’s leading political thinkers and practitioners discussed the problem of moving our democracy fully into the 21 century, from practical suggestions like ranked choice voting and internet organizing to broader ideas about what a modern party system should look like and how we get there.


Governor Howard Dean

Governor Howard Dean, former DNC Chairman, presidential candidate, six term Governor and physician, currently works as a part time independent consultant focusing on the areas of health care, early childhood development, alternative energy and the expansion of grassroots politics around the world.

Dean serves as a CNBC contributor and is the founder of Democracy for America. He also serves on the board of the National Democratic Institute where he focuses on southeast Europe and China.

Dean began his career in public service in 1982 when he transitioned from a full-time practicing physician to an elected representative in Vermont. Dean served as Governor for 12 years - the second longest serving in the state.

Respected on both sides of the political aisle, Dean was chairman of the National Governors' Association, the Democratic Governors' Association, and the New England Governors' Conference while he served as Governor of Vermont. Dean left office in Vermont to run for President in 2003 where he implemented innovative fundraising strategies such as use of the Internet.

As chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Dean created and implemented the “50 State Strategy” and the development of 21st century campaign tools. Dean is credited with helping Democrats make historic gains in 2006 and 2008. Under his leadership, significant resources were dedicated to revitalizing the Party by building and strengthening the organizational tools, technological capabilities and infrastructure required to win while laying the foundation for a long-term Democratic majority.

Before entering politics, Dean graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in political science in 1971, and received his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City in 1978. Upon completing his residency at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont, he went on to practice internal medicine in Shelburne, Vermont.

He is married to Dr. Judy Steinberg and they have two children, Anne and Paul.

Steve McMahon

Steve is an attorney and co-founder of Purple Strategies, LLC. He got his start in politics on the Senate and political staff of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and has worked on dozens of Senate, Gubernatorial and Mayoral campaigns across the country.

Steve has served in senior roles in three presidential campaigns, and produced the advertising in support of then Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic National Committee in the 2008 presidential campaign.

For the past twelve years, Steve’s principal focus has been on providing comprehensive reputation, brand image, crisis management and issue advocacy campaigns to companies and industries operating in challenging environments. He and his colleagues have also handled numerous initiative and referendum campaigns on a wide range of subjects, and helped develop litigation communication strategies for major companies facing significant litigation threats.

Steve appears regularly as a political commentator on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell Reports. During the past three campaign seasons, he was a frequent commentator on the NBC Evening News, ABC World News Tonight, The Today Show, CNN, and FOX NEWS. Steve is married to Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst. The couple has four daughters.

Anne Johnson

Anne Johnson is the Executive Director of Generation Progress, the youth division of the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining CAP Anne was a senior campaign specialist at the National Education Association, where she focused on creating opportunities for young members within the union, built grassroots fundraising programs, and managed numerous member political engagement programs and electoral campaigns. Anne also founded a member-candidate development program while at the NEA. Prior to NEA, Anne served as the national field director for SEIU COPE, supervising a staff of union organizers to develop local and national fundraising and political engagement programs.
Originally from Minnesota, Anne was the deputy field director on Paul Wellstone’s 2002 re-election campaign. After the campaign Anne helped found Wellstone Action, a nonprofit youth political training organization. Through her work she has become a respected expert on youth issues, partnering with organizations such as People for the American Way, the Center for American Progress, Rock the Vote, the Student PIRGS, and many others. She has also consulted with numerous state and federal candidates and progressive organizations on developing young voter turnout programs around the country. Anne has also worked on state and federal Get Out The Vote programs on both the candidate and independent side.
Anne has developed curricula and led trainings for numerous organizations and campaigns, including Obama for America. She has also worked with the National Democratic Institute’s Middle East and North Africa Program on political trainings and election monitoring in the West Bank and Gaza.

A University of Minnesota graduate, Anne began her career working at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, as a fellow at the Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Rob Richie

An expert on international and domestic elections and electoral reform, Rob Richie has directed FairVote since its founding in 1992. Among his activities at FairVote, Richie has:

  • been a guest on many radio and television programs, including C-SPAN, NBC News, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, NPR's "Talk of the Nation", "All things Considered" and "Fresh Air" and been a frequent source for print, radio and television journalists;
  • published commentary in such publications as New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Roll Call, Nation, National Civic Review, Boston Review, Christian Science Monitor and Legal Times;* co-authored two books, Every Vote Equal (2006) and Whose Votes Count (2001) and had his writings appear in seven other books;
  • Spoken to scores of organizations, including at the annual conventions of the American Political Science Association, National Association of Counties, National Association of Secretaries of state, Unitarian Universalists and National Conference of State Legislatures and to the Voting Section of the U. S. Department of Justice, the Lincoln Day dinners of the Alaska Republican Party in Juneau and Anchorage and several groups of foreign dignitaries through the United States Information Agency;
  • Worked with congressional and state legislative staff in writing numerous pieces of legislation;
  • Testified in special sessions before charter commissions in cities in New York, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Michigan and before state legislative committees in Alaska, Vermont, Virginia and Washington;
  • Helped organize eight well-attended national conferences on electoral system reform and worked with hundreds of state reformers supporting fair election methods;
  • Toured New Zealand at the invitation of electoral reformers during a successful referendum campaign in that country in 1993 to adopt a proportional voting system; and
  • edited FairVote's publications, such as its bi-annual analyses of congressional elections that have received prominent news coverage around the nation.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1962, Richie graduated from Haverford College with a B.A. in philosophy in 1987. Before co-founding FairVote and becoming its director in 1992, he worked for three winning congressional campaigns in Washington state and for non-profit organizations in Washington and the District of Columbia. He is married to Cynthia Terrell and is the father of three children: Savanna, Lucas and Rebecca.


This event was organized in partnership with for the #DemocracyNow program series.

Part 1

Part 2

Steve McMahon

Steve McMahon

Howard Dean

Governor Howard Dean

Rob Richie

Rob Richie

Anne Johnson

Anne Johnson

NYU Footer