We typically don’t associate emergent health care with the ballot box—but what if leveraging the captive audience of patients waiting in the Emergency Department could improve voter registration rates among underrepresented populations? That’s the idea behind hospital campaigns aimed at closing the voter registration gap while offering underserved populations the opportunity to register while they wait in the ED for care.
Such initiatives capitalize on a shared reality between health care and voting: a disproportionately large share of Americans, people of color and low-income citizens, are often unregistered and frequently seek non-emergent care in the ED. “While this illustrates a problem in our current medical system, it also introduces a real opportunity to increase voter registration,” explains Alister Martin, MD, an emergency medicine physician and faculty at the Center for Social Justice and Health Equity, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
Initiatives that capture voter registration among waiting patients in the ED, explains Dr. Martin, can help overcome barriers faced by underserved populations, including complicated or inconvenient registration processes. One study found an 89 percent agreement rate among individuals approached in hospital waiting rooms regarding voter registration.
“Extending these services to emergency rooms has extraordinary promise, for one reason above all: It engages Americans who are not registered to vote by meeting them exactly where they are,” adds Dr. Martin.
Read more in an op/ed co-written by Dr. Martin for The Boston Globe.