Election Law: Health Care Based Voter Reg - Better Understanding the National Voter Registration Act
Dramatically expand partnering hospitals
Posted September 17, 2020
Background & Context
VotER is a nonpartisan 501c3 affiliated nonprofit with a mission to use healthcare settings as a place to register folks to vote or help them get their mail in ballot, as explained in this New York Times piece about our work(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/us/in-era-of-sickness-doctors-prescribe-unusual-cure-voting.html).
We give providers a tool that allows them to help their patients register to vote. The Healthy Democracy Kit we make and ship for free to all health care providers contain VotER badges that accompany a provider’s hospital ID with a QR code enabling patients to register to vote or obtain an absentee ballot.
In just 3 months, over 20,200 health care providers have requested their free Healthy Democracy Kit to register their patients to vote as highlighted here by this recent Washington Post piece (https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/doctors-hospitals-launch-voter-registration-efforts/2020/08/08/ac209e7a-d977-11ea-a788-2ce86ce81129_story.html). We've helped over 15,000 patients, health care workers and others get ready to vote in November so far.
The legal basis we are using to justify the fact that it is ok for hospitals to register patients to vote stems from a law passed in the early 90s. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act — the “motor voter” bill normalized DMVs as places of voter registration. It also enables hospitals to provide nonpartisan voter registration information and even register patients on site. Since 1993, a variety of initiatives promoting integrated voter engagement (including registration, mobilization, education, and protection) have spread across healthcare settings. In 2008, the National Association of Community Health Centers started a successful nonpartisan campaign called Community Health Vote and created a toolkit to guide implementation. Across hundreds of participating clinics, they registered 18,000 patients ahead of the 2008 election and 25,000 patients ahead of the 2012 election.
Here is a pre-written Legal Brief that has improved our understanding but does not answer the below questions.
Work & Deliverables
We have a few legal questions:
1. We look at this law as "encouragement" to hospitals that deliver public assistance in the form of Medicaid to do voter registration but not an outright mandate like DMVs. Have we interpreted the law correctly? Is there anything in the text of the law that strengthens or weakens our argument?
2. Sometimes we hear partners make statements that if a hospital or health center is affiliated with a state(i.e. the State hospital - UNC Medical Center for ex) that this precludes them from engaging in voter registration. Specifically, that they are not allowed to use state funds to do voter registration work. Is this true and how does this intersect with the NVRA?
3. Sometimes we hear partners make statements that if a hospital or health center is affiliated with the federal government (federally qualified health center) that they are not allowed to do voter registration. Specifically, that they are not allowed to use federal funds to do voter registration work. Is this true and how does this intersect with the NVRA?
4. Are there any other things that we ought to keep in mind or questions we should be asking?
- Meet to chat through implications and reactions to Questions
- Provide short set of notes or legal brief 1-5 pages summarizing answers so we have them to refer to.
In total, 51 million potential voting-age adults are not registered to vote in the United States. This group is disproportionately made up of the young, the poor, and people of color. These are also the same groups that disproportionately overutilize the ER for non-emergency care because they lack access to traditional forms of healthcare. VotER is a civic engagement startup launched through a collaboration between Massachusetts General Hospital, TurboVote, and ideas42. We offer patients a chance to register to vote using a combination of site-based, digital, and healthcare provider based voter registration methods. Our early pilots have resulted in significant demand from over 50 hospitals across the country in two months - and we are confident this model and ongoing COVID19 adjustments will lead to large increases in voter registration rates.