“Vote Like Our Health Depends on It” | Inside the Push to Register Voters at Hospitals

As the pandemic rages on, the doctor’s office or local hospital is one of the few places where people still meet in-person. Patients worried about food, housing, the virus, and other pressing issues can always find comfort and solace in their local healthcare facility. As it turns out, it’s also a great place to register to vote.

A new bipartisan project known as VotER wants to see more hospitals and doctors’ offices helping people register to vote. We’re less than three weeks from election day, and every vote counts. Providers and staff aren’t there to tell people how to vote. They’re just encouraging people to register, so they are all set for Election Day on November 3rd.  

County fairs, community get-togethers, and other local events designed to register potential voters have largely been canceled in the wake of COVID-19. With few alternatives in communities, many people might have to rely on their local doctor’s office instead.

Democracy on Demand

The pandemic has upended traditional life in America. This year’s election will be unlike anything in recent memory as millions of people cast their ballots by mail. Others will do so carefully in person, donned in all kinds of PPE.

The virus has also intensified the debate around politics in many communities. We’ve seen nasty disputes over lockdowns and other safety measures on the state and local levels. Many people do not have enough access to affordable healthcare, even as infection rates rise around the country. Many households are worried about paying rent, keeping their kids in school, and making ends meet.

In short, this year’s election feels more personal than ever.

That’s why Dr. Alister Martin, an ER physician, founded the organization VotER, which is already being used by more than 300 hospitals nationwide. The group has adopted the phrase, “Vote like your life depends on it” because for many Americans, it does.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices interested in signing up can do so online. The group will send the facility what’s known as a democracy kit, which contains everything the staff will need to help register patients to vote.

In many cases, the facility will use patient contact information to send out automatic alerts reminding people to register to vote. The message will contain a link containing information on how to do it and where. Every state has different voting laws in the books, and registering can be a challenge for some individuals, especially if they have more urgent issues on their plate, such as finding a place to live, securing food, and getting a job.

Spanish speakers and low-income residents may also have trouble navigating the registration process. Some states require different forms of ID and documentation, while others aren’t as strict.

Signing Up Patients

Marshae Love, a medical assistant in Wisconsin, says registering patients to vote is just another part of her day. She’s happy to answer questions about voting in between other topics, such as weight loss, COVID-19, and high blood pressure.

She says, “So, when I go in the rooms, just having conversation once I’m checking in the patients, they’ll ask, like, hey, what’s that around your neck? So, I’ll let them know it’s just a way for them to register to vote.”

Love is wearing a badge around her neck that has a QR code. Patients can scan the code with their cell phones and it will bring them to a website where they can register in just a few minutes, usually while they’re waiting to see the doctor. If they have any questions or get lost along the way, the website will direct them to a help line where they can talk to a live person.

Working in a doctor’s office, Love knows that most of her patients are already on their phones, so why not give them something to do while they wait? She adds, “It’s just something quick they can do, and it’s one more thing they can knock off of their to-do list.”

Why It Matters

Wisconsin is one of many areas where minority Americans are less likely to register to vote than white residents, especially amid a pandemic when many people are focused on other issues.

Love works at Progressive Community Health Centers in Milwaukee, where 80% of her patients are black and 90% are considered low-income. The center sends out monthly text messages asking 9,500 patients to register. So far, about 40,000 patients have gotten help registering or requesting ballots.

As Dr. Madelaine Tully puts it, “With people having to move in with family members, people having real issues with their financial security, their food security and all that – so you can imagine that registering to vote is not high on that list when you have, you know, issues of basic shelter, safety and food.”

However, these are the issues that are on the ballot in November. From expanding access to healthcare to affordable quality housing and increasing employment opportunities, everyone should be able to make their voices heard.

The hospital or doctor’s office is also a great place to get the conversation going. Many people may be turned off when it comes to politics, but nurses and doctors usually have the power to cut through this noise. They are among the most trusted professionals in the country. With so much misinformation and derision in today’s politics, this is one of the best ways for people to learn how to register to vote and why it matters.

If you’re interested in signing up, visit VotER today to learn more.  

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