Democracy Advocate

Jefferson has spent most of his adult life working to improve democracy. Immediately after graduating from Harvard, he returned home where he co-founded the award-winning Bus Project, which focused on engaging young people in politics and registered tens of thousands of voters. He has been an Oregon State Representative, a talk radio show host, a mayoral candidate, the executive director of a terrestrial radio platform that launched hundreds of diverse voices, and currently works with a Portland-based company dedicated to bridging the growing digital divide that disadvantages internet-poor communities.

Rick Roll

As State Representative, Jefferson launched the most successful “Rick Roll” video the format’s high-spirited history. Picked up by almost every major news outlet, the video features a bipartisan group of Oregon politicians in a quick cut montage speaking the lyrics to Rick Astley’s song Never Gonna Give You Up from the floor of the House. The effort required Jefferson to rare, across-the-aisle agreement from representatives to incorporate at least one line of the song into their floor speech. When asked by NPR why he went to all the trouble, Jefferson replied, “We can make sure that when we’re disagreeing, we’re not just being disagreeable.”

Online Voter Registration

National Leader in Modernizing Democracy: As a State Representative, Jefferson Smith successfully co-led the effort to bring Online Voter Registration to Oregon. Jefferson and allies at the Bus Project and Bus Federation (now Alliance for Youth Action) were at the vanguard of passing Online Voter Registration nationwide. Jefferson also co-sponsored and carried the bill starting a cross-agency approach to advance Oregon’s compliance with the bipartisan National Voter Registration Act — to improve access to the ballot. And, thanks to the work of so many democracy champions over the years, Oregon had the highest voter turnout in the country in 2022.

Honest Elections

Big money weakens our democratic institutions, undermines confidence in government, and excludes the vast majority of citizens from seeking public office. Strong campaign finance laws are critical to protect the integrity of local elections — our elections. Oregon is one of only 5 states with no limits on political campaign contributions. Candidates and public officials have become unduly beholden to the special interests that contribute big money. Click here to learn more.

Democracy Nerd

“Democracy Nerd” is a podcast that asks the question “How do we ensure a more perfect union?” This podcast shines a light on hidden and overt threats facing American democracy. Policy proposals and people-powered movements that help ensure a healthy democracy will be celebrated.
Click here to listen.

The Bus Project

Jefferson’s co-founding of The Bus Project created a model that spread across the country, spawning the Bus Federation and a network of state-based organizations that transformed voting laws in multiple states. Jefferson and the Bus team launched the innovative training platform PolitiCorps, which educated and inspired countless new leaders. Jefferson and three other state-based leaders launched the State Pilot Project; in Oregon that spawned Oregon Voice, the state’s leading collaborative for pro-democracy nonprofit groups. As for the Bus Federation, evolved into the Alliance for Youth Organizing, a $20+ million network of pro-democracy youth organizations.


Sortition – Citizen Juries for a Health Democracy: sortition – a fancy word for deciding democratic outcomes by the random drawing of lots, is making a recent comeback since the days of ancient Greece. Inside and outside of government, Jefferson worked with leaders of Healthy Democracy Oregon on successful legislative implementation and early strategy to empanel citizen juries to review ballot measures. “Ultimately, the best chance for a working democracy is in fact, democracy. Groups like Healthy Democracy can give real power to people in government. And that’s the best hope for government.”

TEDx “Your Engagement Matters”

Jefferson’s first TEDx talk underscores his fundamental view that people have to work together to get the government we deserve. Our engagement matters. Democracy requires “priceless politics,” aka “worth a lot, not for sale,” solving problems across multiple interests with the public interest as the highest priority.