NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
President and Founder, iVote
Expanded Voting Access in 12 U.S. States
“When I was young, the only thing I knew was that I wanted to help people,” says Ellen Kurz. After working at several nonprofits, including a center for battered women, Kurz found herself drawn towards a path of community service. But there was an endless stream of people to help, and she became frustrated she couldn’t do more. “I started thinking that electing people to office who had power over decisions and budgets was a path for me,” says Kurz, “and that the way to create change was to change who was in charge.” Her revelation was the start of a lifelong crusade to increase participation in U.S. elections and secure voting rights for all Americans.
In 2014, Kurz founded iVote to fight voter suppression through two vehicles: electing pro-voting state election officials and passing automatic voter registration laws across the country. “If everyone voted, there would be lawmakers who are more representative of the will of all people, not just the will of the rich and powerful,” says Kurz. That belief has powered iVote’s efforts to mobilize support for lawmakers who “see their job as increasing participation.” Using tools such as polling, focus groups, and advertising, iVote runs state-wide campaigns for ballot access and works with state legislatures to remove barriers to the polls. In 2020, Kurz raised $18 million for a voter education campaign that reached over 15 million people in battleground states and helped deliver record early voter numbers in those communities. “The goal of iVote has been to fight voter suppression,” says Kurz, “but we’re also trying to move the ball forward rather than play defense in every election.”
Campaigning for reforms that expand the pool of registered voters, says Kurz, is paying off in big ways. When iVote’s ballot initiative for automatic voter registration was signed into law in Nevada, the state saw the largest increase in voter registration, and, consequently, the biggest increase in voter turnout of any state during the 2020 presidential election. Since its inception, iVote has helped pass automatic voter registration laws in 12 states. It has also successfully run state-wide campaigns to help elect secretaries of state in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and New Mexico.
Kurz knows the fight for equal representation and fair voting laws in elections is far from over. “It is true that voter suppression is happening. But it’s also true that we’ve made some progress.” iVote has already set its sights on advancing pro-voting legislation in even more states and building a U.S. electorate where everyone votes and every vote is considered equal. “Every step closer towards full participation in our elections makes this a fairer and more just world,” says Kurz, “which is not a bad thing to spend your life trying to do.”