By Marc Wetherhorn, National Advocacy Director, National Association of Community Health Centers
“The only way to predict the future is to have power to shape the future.”
– Eric Hoffer
This week, NACHC is launching Community Health Vote 2012, a national non-partisan voter engagement campaign designed to establish voter engagement as an ongoing effort at as many health centers as possible. Community Health Vote is NOT just a voter registration drive, but rather an ongoing effort to provide tools anyone coming into a health center can use to register to vote and to get as much encouragement and information as possible to actually cast their vote in 2012 and beyond.
Community Health Vote is a natural extension of and is consistent with our founding purpose of being leaders in improving the life and well-being of our communities. Non-partisan voter engagement can help health centers meet their organization’s mission and maximize effectiveness by educating and engaging the public on ways to fulfill their civic responsibilities. The long history of bi-partisan support for the Health Centers Program is testimony to our focus on non-partisanship. When we do voter engagement properly, which we will do, we are absolutely non-partisan. Having our communities registered and voting in large numbers will mean that officials of EVERY party have to pay more attention and work for their support. Something they do not always do now.
While many health centers have been encouraging and supporting their staff, patients and communities in voting for years (and many are required by law to offer voter registration in some circumstances), I know that the idea of registering voters at your health center in the current politically charged environment scares some of you. However, the risk of being seen as partisan (and any consequences that might flow from that) is minimal if a health center, in fact, conducts its voter engagement activities in an entirely non-partisan manner, consistent with the guidelines referenced below. The truth is that the need has never been greater to help those we serve express themselves where it matters most – at the ballot box.
Health centers are in a unique position to help our communities be more civically engaged because the very nature of health centers makes them an integral part of how low income Americans are involved in their communities and society. Every health center has the power to dramatically increase voter participation in its district by putting in place legal, permissible, non-partisan voter engagement activities: voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities. Think of it this way – Just as we see any patient who walks in the door, we want anyone who wants to register or update their registration to be able to do so at a health center. If they desire, we want to also help educate them about the timing and mechanics of voting and make them comfortable casting their ballot.
NACHC will provide as much support and technical assistance as we can to any center that wants to participate in this effort. You can learn more about Community Health Vote and download a Health Center Voter Engagement Tool Kit on the Campaign for America’s Health Centers website. You can also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would like every health center to be a part of Community Health Vote, but in the end, it is up to each health center to decide if and how it wants to participate. We hope you will see it as an activity consistent with founding purpose of the health center movement to be leaders in improving the life and well-being of our communities and join in this effort.