“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
While the final turnout impact results for the 2012 elections will not be available until next spring, it is safe to say that the health centers that participated in Community Health Vote 2012 made a real contribution to increased turnout among the patients they serve. Over 170 health centers in both urban and rural communities in 34 states reported submitting new or updated registrations for more than 25,000 people and collected an additional 10,000+ “pledge to vote” contacts over the period from August through October. NACHC and these health centers also encouraged turnout with non-partisan follow up reminder contacts and significant local Get Out the Vote efforts including early voting reminders, providing voting information handouts to patients and coordinated rides to the polls.
The health centers that participated in Community Health Vote did so in a variety of ways including:
• Ongoing voter registration and pledge to vote contact collection during patient intake, public assistance enrollment, or in the waiting room.
• Ongoing work with partner organizations whose staff and volunteers assisted in registering voters in health centers and at health center events.
• Registering voters at events and/or during National Voter Registration Day or periodically in the center with the use of volunteers.
A report by our partners at Nonprofit VOTE shows that on November 6th, lower-income and diverse communities like those served by health centers accounted for a greater share of voter turnout than ever before. As reported in Nonprofit Voters Increase from 2008: Claim Higher Share of the Electorate in 2012:
• The Latino share of the electorate continued to rise, increasing to 10% of total voters this year.
• Black voters maintained their share of the electorate from 2008, holding at 13%.
• Voters with family income below $50,000 increased their share of the electorate, jumping three points to 41%.
Yet, the activity in 2012 was just a first step in the ongoing Community Health Vote program. If 170 organizations registered 25,000 voters in just over 3 months imagine what 1,200 organizations could do with an ongoing effort. That is our goal.
We learned a lot from the centers who participated this year that we can use to provide assistance to centers who want to continue or build on their work and those who want to get started. What we know is that there are ways any health center can have an ongoing civic engagement effort IF it decides it wants to. With the hype of the last election behind us, now is a great time to start thinking about how your center can continue or start an ongoing nonpartisan voter engagement effort. If you have questions or want to learn more about how your center can be a part of Community Health Vote going forward, email me at email@example.com.
–Marc Wetherhorn, Senior Director, Advocacy and Civic Engagement, National Association of Community Health Centers