Earlier this year, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) partnered with the Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) to launch Community Health Vote 2012, a national non-partisan voter engagement campaign designed to establish voter engagement as an ongoing effort at Federally Qualified Health Centers around the country. While many health centers have been encouraging and supporting their staff, patients and communities in voting for years (and some are required by law to offer voter registration in some circumstances), the goal of Community Health Vote is to involve as many of the over 1200 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC’s) as possible in integrating voter registration, voter education and Get Out the Vote efforts targeting their 20 million clients.
There are health center sites in over 8000 communities and every organization is governed by a board consisting of at least 51% active patients of the center plus other community leaders. The community based nature of health centers and the relationship they have with their patients as their “family doctor” make them an ideal vehicle for communicating with and energizing their patients to become more involved in the electoral process that has a dramatic impact on their lives and those of their families. Over 92% of health center patients nationwide have incomes under 200% of poverty; over a quarter are African-American and over a third are Hispanic or Latino. Because these demographics reflect a patient population that is historically unregistered and unlikely to vote, health centers have the power to dramatically increase voter participation in their communities by putting in place legal, permissible, non-partisan voter engagement activities: voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities.
The challenge for health centers, as with many other direct service providers, is developing ongoing voter engagement mechanisms that do not drain staff time and resources from their primary mission – delivering quality, affordable health care. NACHC, along with FELN and other partners, is providing as much support and technical assistance as resources allow to help centers become comfortable with the legal framework for doing voter engagement in their states and to develop a variety of tools and best practices that centers can choose from to do this work on an ongoing basis.
You can learn more about Community Health Vote at www.chcvote.org .