Guest blog post
Despite the pandemic, 2020 was an important year for me. As school dragged on in its now virtual environment, I started expanding my interests, becoming enthralled by the interconnections of democracy and health.
Looking at the medical world through the lens of being a new EMT, the pandemic shone a bright light on inequities in our healthcare system. As I began researching the linkages in this space, I learned about Vot-ER, a nonprofit that recognizes how medical professionals have a unique, trusted role in bringing civic engagement efforts into healthcare spaces – including through Civic Health Month.
Despite the pandemic shutting people indoors, the 2020 election had surprising results. Voter turnout rates reached the highest level in more than a century. Certainly, we should rejoice at such progress, but we need demur at an overzealous acceptance of victory. To schoolchildren and to the world, 66.8% is barely a passing grade.
Just as Departments of Motor Vehicles, other government agencies, and libraries across the country play an important role in civic engagement, hospitals, clinics, and emergency rooms are the next wave. With social determinants of health accounting for almost 80% of health outcomes, medical professionals know the importance of what happens outside of hospital walls. One’s health is affected greatly by socioeconomic status, environmental conditions, and, yes, voting.
By giving healthcare professionals the tools and training necessary, nonpartisan voter registration conducted through a healthcare setting can be a tremendous equalizer in its ability to reach underserved communities. People trust medical professionals to solve their health qualms, putting these providers in a space to build upon this trust and deliver accessible civic engagement opportunities to a wide range of patients.
August marks the third annual Civic Health Month, a month-long initiative in which organizations and healthcare professionals—as well as students, educators, and advocates—can celebrate, learn about, and increase civic health in their communities. Throughout the month, Vot-ER and various partners host a variety of webinars aimed at showing organizations how to enter the civic health space.
While Civic Health Month might be ending soon, healthcare’s role in civic engagement is not limited to the confines of a single month. National Voter Registration Day is coming up on September 19, kicking off a host of civic holidays, and is the perfect time for individuals to take what they learn in August and apply it in their communities. For example, employers can send an email to staff encouraging them to check their voter registration and healthcare providers can encourage patients to scan their Vot-ER badges.
There is still much progress to be made in increasing the United States’ voter turnout rate, but with organizations willing to try new things, there is much hope to be had for the future.
Ashish Vaidyanathan is a student studying mathematics and biology at Washington University in St. Louis, and an intern at Vot-ER.