Young people. Low income people. People of color. These three groups live not only on the margins of our health-care system, but also are severely under-represented in voting.* More than 50 million people who are eligible to vote are not registered, while too many people are turning to hospital emergency rooms to seek basic levels of care because they are not insured or have inadequate health coverage. Dr. Alister Martin, an emergency room physician at Mass General Hospital, has developed a solution that treats both problems, and it goes by the name of VotER.
VotER is a nonpartisan organization that was piloted at Mass General Hospital, founded by Martin and run by a team of dedicated physicians and behavior scientists united behind one mission: to make it easier for patients to participate in the democratic process. Martin believes that in order to create a more inclusive health care system in our country, we need to create a more inclusive democracy. VotER may not be the only solution but it is a start.Today the VotER initiative has spanned the country, with over 22,000 health-care providers using the platform. Some 130 people per day are being registered to vote, and the momentum and creativity within the initiative continues to grow at an exponential rate. Participating care providers wear a lanyard that asks “Ready to Vote?” and has a customizable QR code and text number which allows patients to check their registration while waiting for care. The message is simple and effective. Dr. Martin explains that the nonprofit’s volunteers are “walking billboards” for VotER—with the goal of empowering patients to see the link between their health care and their vote and to understand that their vote can help to elect someone who will represent them, their community and their needs.
*According to data collected by VotER 41% of young adults (age 18-24); 50% of people with a family income of less then $30,000; 43% of eligible Latinos; 31% of eligible African Americans are unregistered to vote. In comparison, young adults were two times as likely to have non-urgent ER visits compared to older adults, low-income patients are more likely to make non-urgent ER visits, African American patients are more likely than White patients to make non-urgent ER visits.