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Voting in the Midst of a Pandemic: What Are Some Options to Get People Registered to Vote?

Voting in the Midst of a Pandemic: What Are Some Options to Get People Registered to Vote?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, US citizens who wanted to obtain a voter registration application could walk into any public library, post office, or Department of Motor Vehicles office—among other locations—where applications were readily available. This system worked in the past, although one could argue that it did not work well, and millions of Americans remain unregistered to vote. So how do we capture people who want to register to vote, especially now in the context of the coronavirus pandemic? Most of these public offices are either closed or only open by appointment during limited hours.

How can we reach the millions of Americans who need to register to vote? Massachusetts General Hospital launched a novel initiative to offer voter registration kiosks for patients and families in waiting rooms in low-acuity emergency departments. They use iPads and QR codes and have a simplified application process that patients can complete without assistance from hospital staff, and the applications can also be completed by patients and family members seeking to register to vote on their phones. This is all completed in a nonpartisan format, and seems like a viable option to promote voter registration.

In addition to emergency departments, why not offer voter registration options in community clinics, medical offices, pharmacies, and other locations where patients are currently allowed to physically seek care and be present in person?

The voter turnout in the US has been abysmal and it promises to be even worse this fall given the social distancing constraints and other pandemic-driven restrictions. Absentee ballots are a sound, vetted, and feasible options for voters, but this option still requires voters to be registered.

More information regarding this new option for voter registration in emergency departments can be found here.

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Filed under: Health Policy and Trends, Public Health

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