Courtesy of Sarah Francois / Progressive Community Heath Center.
Due to the pandemic this year, there aren’t many large public events where volunteers sign up for votes a few weeks before the election. However, clinics are intervening to fill the void through programs such as VotER and Vote Health 2020, free clinics, community centers, and nonpartisan efforts to enroll patients in emergency rooms.
In Wisconsin, as patients discussed issues such as weight loss and high blood pressure, medical assistant Marshae Love, who works at Milwaukee’s Progressive Community Health Center, also began talking about registration. A badge hanging from her neck with information from VotER.
“So when I go to the room, when I’m just having a conversation while checking in the patient, they ask,” Hey, what’s around your neck? ” .. So I let them know that it’s just a way for them to register to vote. “
Patients can scan the QR code from the badge on their mobile phone and go to the voting registration web page. Also, if the patient gets stuck, go to a living person or helpline.
“Anyway, people are always on the phone, so that’s just the quickest thing they can do, and another thing they can knock out the to-do list,” Love says.
Progressive also sends monthly text messages asking approximately 9,500 patients to enroll. More than 80% of progressive patients are black and the population of Hmong and Burmese refugees is increasing. About 90% of clinic patients also have low incomes.
Progressive Dr. Madeleine Tully says it was the population that was hit hard by the pandemic.
“People have to move with their families, and people have real problems with their financial security, their food security, etc.,” says Tally. “So when you have basic shelter, safety and food issues, you can imagine that your vote isn’t at the top of the list.”
There is a disparity in registration rates between black and Latin voters in Wisconsin and across the country compared to white voters. To fill that gap, Dr. Alister Martin, an ER doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, founded VotER. It is used in over 300 hospitals nationwide.
Martin’s experience as a child with medical care was similar to that of low-income communities across the country. His mom had two jobs and wasn’t always a pediatrician. You may or may not have health insurance.
“What I learned from my experience as a doctor in the emergency room was this idea that the emergency room plays a very important role in the lives of people from low-income areas,” he said. Says. .. “Yes, they deal with emergencies. Yes, they deal with acute medical problems. But they are also homeless, have access to food, access to good insurance that can be paid, etc. It also addresses issues related to social determinants of the homeless. Needed medicine. “
He also saw duplication between millions of people in the United States who use emergency rooms for medical care and those who are not registered voters. So he was nonpartisan and began thinking about how to provide voter registration in a way that encouraged voter participation among vulnerable groups.
He says it was also a plus if it was easy and feasible while the patient was waiting.
“Registration to vote in this country is like running an obstacle course,” says Martin. “The rules for registering vary widely from state to state, and in some places you may need to track different information to start the process.
“The first step, he says, is to ask people to register. As the pandemic begins to vote on public health issues, healthcare professionals are in a good place to start a conversation, Martin says. And you know, this isn’t like the usual way this works, and this time you need to take special precautions and consider voting in a safe way. . “
This is a nonpartisan program that helps healthcare professionals understand how patients vote, but does not know who to vote for. Another program, called patient voting, helps patients who are unexpectedly hospitalized days or weeks before the presidential election to vote.
To date, approximately 40,000 patients have been assisted in voting registration or request through VotER. Voting Health 2020 also says it has helped thousands of people nationwide.
John Curiel of the MIT Election Data and Science Institute says the program is a good idea and will almost certainly be rewarded with more political participation.
“Looking at past American historical trends, participation, politics, and voting registration, it was usually done by going to a central location with everyone, rather than a door-to-door visit,” says Curiel. “In that sense, the hospital idea would be a way to bring everyone together in one place.”
Hospitals across the country are part of VotER, but Curiel says these efforts have already been successful in swing states such as North Carolina and Florida. According to Curiel, the counties in North Carolina, with hospitals at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are becoming some of the most attended regions in the state.
With the 2016 election dropping to about 100,000 votes in Swing State, Curiel says registration and turnout could be a deciding factor in this year’s election.