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Civic Health Alliance Prescription Pad

Our friends at Civic Health Alliance create a printable resource for healthcare workers to use in clinical settings.

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Addressing Health Disparities Through Voter Engagement: A Social Worker’s Point of View

Our health is a product of our environment. Therefore, a healthy community should be one in which all residents have access to quality education, safe and healthy homes, adequate employment, transportation, nutrition, and quality health care. Right? Sadly, the dominant public narrative blames individuals for their poor health and renders the social determinants of health inequity invisible, despite a large body of research documenting racial and class disparities in health. When it comes to flipping the narrative to focus on the upstream determinants of those disparities, social workers bring a valuable perspective. The social work profession has roots in structural change efforts and is committed to navigating the various dimensions that influence health, such as work, family, and neighborhood.  

As a graduate student at Boston University’s School of Social Work, I’ve been learning about racial justice and cultural oppression. My interest in macro social work led me to an internship placement with Vot-ER, a nonprofit nonpartisan voter registration organization. It sounds simple. But here’s what you might not have taken away from that sentence: Vot-ER was founded by an Emergency Medicine Doctor in Boston after he was inspired by a social worker. Yes, you heard that correctly. A social worker! Social workers are essential; they make a difference in addressing inequities within our various systems. 

As a part of the Vot-ER Social Work team, I have quickly learned this organization is more than a simple voter registration organization. Vot-ER is advancing the public narrative for health equity and social justice. Vot-ER has not only been working diligently to register patients to vote, but also has been helping make social injustice more visible, specifically within the healthcare system. Vot-ER has helped me understand the relationship between voting and its effects on the social determinants of health. 

One of Vot-ER’s core beliefs is that “by voting for our health, we can preserve what works or demand change for the things that don’t.” The power of this belief comes from the affirmation that when a system or policy does not work for us, for our families, and for our community, we have the power to demand changes to that policy or system through our vote. Through Vot-ER’s work and vision, I have become a firm believer that we can address health disparities through voter engagement. 

We need to understand that access to healthcare, adequate transportation, safe homes, and quality education are components of healthy communities. However, we also need to be mindful that there are many barriers for many people to receive these services. Yagoda (2019) stated that people of color, low-income Americans, the uninsured, and young people are the most likely to be unregistered and to experience barriers to voter registration. Let’s take a look at lack of transportation as a barrier to civic engagement. Adequate transportation is often a prerequisite for accessing healthcare, employment, grocery stores, and other public services. Nevertheless, according to the American Public Health Association (2011), low-income persons, people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities and people with limited English proficiency experience a transportation disadvantage.

You might be asking yourself, how do we build healthy communities? How do we break these barriers? As social workers, it is time for us to get involved in the work Vot-ER is doing. We need to start registering clients to vote in all settings whether it’s a hospital, a clinic, or a university. It is time for us to be a part of this nonpartisan process and help create a more inclusive and just democracy.

10 Ways to Use Your Vot-ER Badge

Healthcare providers across the country are helping patients use their voices to shape our democratic processes and create a fairer, more just healthcare system. While the predominant mechanism for healthcare providers to get patients, colleagues, and family members registered to vote or get them their mail-in ballots has been through the direct, in person, use of the Healthy Democracy Kit, our users have innovated several key new ways to leverage the simple technology behind the kits to get thousands of people ready to vote in November. Below are some of our favorite ways. You can also see examples of these ideas or new ones as they get added by our users on this page.

Before you begin: The first and most important step is to identify your kit’s unique URL. You can do this by using your own kit and making note of the URL that the text trigger or QR code sends you to. For the vast majority of users this will be Just to be sure, go ahead and use your own kit by sending the text message or using the QR code on your badge to find out.

States Competition: Each kit has a specific state tag on it that allows us to track how many people got ready to vote because of healthcare providers in that state. When you use your badge you will be helping score another point for healthcare providers in your state. As of August 20th, healthcare providers in Pennsylvania are in first place with providers in North Carolina lagging just behind. Check the most up to date scores here. How will you use these techniques below to help your state come out on top?

Once you’ve identified your kit’s unique URL, all of the following 10 options are immediately available to you:

1. Text Messages

Have anyone text your badge’s short code. Just tell them to text ‘vote health’ to the number 34444. Anyone using this text will receive a link that counts toward your school or state.

2. Widely post your URL

Distribute and deploy your URL directly everywhere: This is ultimately where all of the above options lead, thus you can always distribute this and be assured your points will count for your school or state.

3. Physical Uses

You can always write or print your URL, text link, or even QR code on anything and distribute it far and wide. We’ve gotten you started with the linked templates, but feel free to make your own! Previous successful ideas for physical uses include:

4. Partner with local establishments.

Recruit bars, restaurants, local hotspots or public boards and add your text code or link, either handwritten or printed!

5. Instagram Bio

Change your Instagram bio link to your URL.

6. Email Signature

Change your email signature until the election: further instructions on how to do this are here.

7. Twitter Storm

Create a Twitter storm using posts featuring your URL and have everyone in your department, family, or friend group repost and tag 10 friends, or better, famous alumni, sports teams, or organizations at your hospital with requests to distribute the link to their followers and networks!

8. Social Media Posts

Make an Instagram or Facebook post (see our templates and adapt to make them school/hospital specific!).

9. Airdrop

AirDrop your registration link at community events, covid testing sites, or anywhere (feel free to screenshot our templates for ease of use)!

10. Text Bank

Plan a text bank, the MOST effective mechanism of voter registration. Here are easy instructions!

Good luck and thank you for doing the vital work to improve the health of our democracy!

Full recordings of Alister’s past Healthy Democracy Kit webinars can be found here.