Heather Smith

Contact InfluenceWatch with suggested edits or tips for additional profiles.

Heather Smith is a left-progressive activist with a career focused on growing youth voting participation. 1 She employed a variety of tactics while working for different left-of-center organizations, many of which are members of the controversial Public Interest Network of groups, to drive an increase in Democratic support.

Her most recognizable role has been as the president of the left-of-center Rock the Vote. Smith supports many left-of-center positions including abolishing the electoral college,2 supporting abortion,3 opposing voter ID laws,4 and supporting Obamacare. 5

Political Record

Smith claimed credit in driving millions of youth for record turnout of their vote in helping elect President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. 6 A skeptical columnist questioned if her contribution was important in consideration of prior youth voting records driven by particular candidates’ personalities (e.g. those of then-Sens. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), Bobby Kennedy (D-NY), and George McGovern (D-SD)) rather than campaign strategies. 7 Another critic noted youth voting numbers dropped to traditional low levels in 2010. 8 Smith blamed the downward trend in 2010 on a poll that showed the majority of youth voters were cynical about politics two years after President Obama’s 2008 election. 9

Political Strategy

Smith views the Millennial generation (defined by one measure as those born between 1981 and 199610) as a critical component of future elections and as primarily democrat. She describes them as advocates for LGBT lifestyles, supporters of government action targeting climate change, and backers of ready access to abortion. 11

Heather Smith studied President Ronald Reagan’s transformative success with youth voters and translated his record of converting young voters into Republicans into her own strategy to capture their first vote for Democrats. She cites evidence that two-thirds of voters never change their party affiliation from their first election. Smith claims that success with the youth vote will mean decades of committed Democratic voters and victories. 12

Smith warned in 2012 that Republicans could gain more of the youth vote if the Democrats didn’t change the discouraging economic situation compelling young voters to live with parents, face joblessness and oppressive student loan debt. 13

Voting Tactics

Heather Smith has pioneered many tactics to motivate youth to vote. They include texting thousands of college students, offering a free demo of the video game Assassin’s Creed in exchange for voting registration. 14 She partnered with Facebook and AT&T to set up a toll-free voting registration phone number and wrapped Madonna in an American flag during a performance. 15 Smith created an on-line voter registration tool published on 23,000 websites that recorded 2.25 million voter registrations. 16 The tool was promoted in many outlets including MTV, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, NBC, CNN, and Comedy Central. 17 She also evolved her approach with the advent of social media to create advertisements and engagement strategies across the various social media channels. 18

Democracy Class for High School Students

Heather Smith took note of the fact that 13,000 people turn 18 every day and most of them did not know what steps to take to become voters and were unaware of the important issues. She in turn worked with the National Education Association teachers’ union to create the Democracy Class oriented towards high school students, supported with teacher resources. 19 The curriculum Smith helped create teaches students that voter suppression is rooted in racial discrimination. It informs students that minorities have faced voter suppression in the past continuing to present day. Smith’s resources also inform students about left-of-center positions on issues like sexual education in schools, checking people’s citizenship status, LGBTinterests, marijuana regulation, public transportation, and minimum wage increases. 20

The teachers’ guide and videos were initially distributed primarily in major city schools like those in Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles due an abundance of existing relationships with teachers and teachers’ unions. It was rolled out nationally as nearly 3,000 teachers had expressed interest in the course. Smith offered to interested teachers additional partners to provide students with more voting guidance. 21

Political Activism

Heather Smith contributed to a book called Electoral Dysfunction, A Survival Manual for American Voters in which she calls for the replacement of the Electoral College with a  plurality-at-large national vote. 22

Smith worked with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the development of Obamacare specific to those aspects affecting young voters. She advocated successfully for young adults to be on parent’s healthcare policies until the age of 26. 23

She was published frequently in the news accusing states of voter suppression of students by implementing voter identification laws. 24 Critics of Smith’s claims describe them as “simplistic and overblown.25


Heather Smith started her career with the left-of-center environmentalist outfit Green Corps. Political defeats helped shape her understanding of the importance of youth voting. She then became the national field director for the left-of-center Public Interest Network’s Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) New Voters Project. In 2007, she became the president of Rock the Vote and deployed successful tactics to register over two million youth voters. 26

Smith is currently serving in multiple roles including a Corps Advisor for Organizing Corps 2020, which coordinates with Democratic Party representatives to train graduating college students on voting fundamentals. 27 The organization has been endorsed by former Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Andrew Gillum, and Stacey Abrams. 28

Smith is serving as a team member for the left-of-center Nonprofit Vote. 29 She is a consultant on the Youth v Gov film team” which is producing a movie about a group of youth suing the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by allowing climate change. 30

She is a senior advisor to Our Children’s Earth (OCE) Foundation and OCE Film Fund. These organizations fund documentaries about the environment and human rights. 31

Heather is a member of the Board of Directors for the left-of-center Advocates for Youth, which focuses on youth sexuality issues including LGBT interests. 32

She also is on the advisory board for the Campus Election Engagement Project (Ceep). 33


  1. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  2. Hirschauer, John. “Rock the Vote (and Abolish the Electoral College).” National Review. National Review, October 22, 2019.
  3. “Planned Parenthood and Rock the Vote to Host Inauguration Party Featuring Delta Rae, Q-Tip.” Planned Parenthood, January 30, 2014.
  4. Smith, Heather. “Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed?” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 24, 2013.
  5. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  6. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  7. Hill, David. “Youth Vote over-Hyped Again.” TheHill, March 4, 2008.
  8. “Under-30 Set’s Lack of Enthusiasm Drains Democrats’ Energy.” The Washington Post. WP Company, November 4, 2010.
  9. “Five Myths about Young Voters.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 24, 2010.
  10. Dimock, Michael. “Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, January 17, 2019.
  11. Smith, Heather. “Millennial Generation Made Its Mark in Election.” TheHill, November 16, 2012.
  12. Smith, Heather. “Rock the Vote 2.0.” Esquire, October 11, 2017.
  13. Smith, Heather. “Millennial Generation Made Its Mark in Election.” TheHill, November 16, 2012.
  14. Pinchefsky, Carol. “Rock the Vote Brings ‘Assassin’s Creed III’ to the People.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, August 23, 2012.
  15. “‘These Days It’s like an IPod Party Mix.” The Washington Post. WP Company, March 2, 2008.
  16. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  17. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  18. Carolyn DeWitt, Heather Smith. “Opinion | Young Voters Live Online. That’s Where the Future of Politics Will Be.” The Washington Post. WP Company, August 12, 2016.
  19. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  20. Wyatt, Melissa. “Democracy Class Educator Toolkit.” Dropbox. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  21. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  22. “Electoral Dysfunction.” The New Press. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  23. “Statement of Heather Smith, President, Rock the Vote.” Rock the Vote, October 13, 2009.
  24. Berman , Ari. “Profile.” Heather Smith, August 30, 2011.
  25. Shephard, Ken. “MSNBC’s Roberts Dismisses Voter ID Laws As ‘Voter Suppression Laws’.” NewsBusters, May 17, 2012.
  26. Appleman, Eric M. Democracy in Action Interview with Rock the Vote’s Heather Smith, November 2009.
  27. “Advisors.” Organizing Corps 2020. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  28. “Organizing Corps 2020.” Organizing Corps 2020. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  29. “Heather Smith.” Nonprofit Vote. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  30. “TEAM.” YOUTH v GOV. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  31. “TEAM.” YOUTH v GOV. Accessed March 6, 2020.
  32. “Advocates for Youth (AFY).” Advocates for Youth (AFY). Accessed March 6, 2020.
  33. “National Advisory Board.” Campus Election Engagement Project, July 18, 2019.

Connected Organizations

  1. Advocates for Youth (AFY) (Non-profit)
    Board of Directors
  2. Green Corps (Non-profit)
    Former Assistant Organizing Director
  3. Nonprofit VOTE (Non-profit)
    Advisory Board Member
  4. One for Democracy (Non-profit)
    Advisory Board Member
  5. PIRG New Voters Project (Non-profit)
    Former National Field Director
  6. Pluribus Project (Non-profit)
    Senior Advisor
  7. Rock the Vote (Non-profit)
    Former President
  See an error? Let us know!