With the November elections looming, many organizations that we wouldn’t normally think of as hubs for engaging voters are playing an important role in ensuring eligible citizens are able to register. Community health centers, trusted spaces for obtaining health care, are among those entering the realm of voter registration. And their work in this area makes perfect sense. Low-income individuals are some of the most frequent clients of community health centers, all too often having been ostracized by other health care providers in their communities because they are uninsured. These health care clinics are well positioned to empower many of their current clientele who come in seeking medical care. Additionally, low-income individuals are disproportionately less likely to  be registered to vote, similarly disempowered from civic engagement because of the belief that the systems in place fail to support their families’ and communities’ needs.

Given this overlap, Nonprofit VOTE has long focused on advising community health centers as they integrate voter registration into their primary goals and responsibilities. With many health centers focused on greater community engagement, Nonprofit VOTE aims to help them recognize voter registration as a tool for empowering low-income consumers. By increasing the number of registered voters, communities can better advocate for their elected officials to respond to their needs—be it changes at the statewide or local level. With local health clinics facilitating the completion of a voter registration form, consumers are empowered to walk out of a health center with their health issues attended to, as well as the tools to participate in the next election.

Community health centers can incorporate voter registration into all aspects of their work, beginning with training and educating staff on the importance of registration. Nonprofit VOTE found that when staff members are informed regarding the direct positive impacts of voter registration on community health, they’re more invested in sharing these benefits among clients, as well as their own family and friends. Getting people registered to vote, and consequently starting a dialogue on the health disparities entrenched by social determinants of health, is a huge step forward in raising awareness on community health needs. These conversations are important in trying to understand complex health issues that aren’t limited to a single household, but are common health problems in the community. Becoming a registered voter can transform an individual’s perception of what she can do to impact her own community, which can, in turn, lead to people taking better care of themselves and their neighbors.

Rather than remaining on the sidelines, community health centers can actively integrate consumers into a valuable set of data on registered voters that will elicit the attention of their policymakers. A recent Nonprofit Vote webinar reiterated that high visibility—such as posters and distribution of  “I Pledge to Vote” buttons or stickers—and enthusiasm were both important to engaging consumers in voter registration opportunities.  Nonprofit Vote emphasized that a great opportunity to synthesize voter registration in health centers exists by tying it into outreach, education and enrollment efforts for health insurance coverage into Medicaid and Marketplaces. Simply by making “the ask,” staff members could inquire, just as they do about health insurance status, whether patients were interested in registering to vote, and subsequently provide the materials to do so. Through reimagining the different ways that health centers can connect consumers to their communities, Nonprofit Vote shares their tips on how these centers can help create a stronger safety net for vulnerable populations.

For more information on how to register voters in your area or work in collaboration with your community health centers, please feel free to read through the slideshow from the webinar or visit http://communityhealthvote.net/blog/.

— Jessica Liao, Health Equity Intern