The U.S. is less than three weeks from the 2022 midterm elections, which will decide which issues are prioritized — and then passed or defeated — in local, state, and federal governments. Medical professionals generally understand how election results can affect their personal freedoms, the health of the communities they serve and live in, and even how they practice medicine.
Yet in the past, many medical professionals have refrained from voting. Historically, doctors vote about 20% less often than the general population. But as two physicians interested in the voting habits of our colleagues, we hope to see a change this year.
We recently published a viewpoint in the Annals of Internal Medicine outlining a four-step framework to improve voter turnout this cycle and to establish a stronger culture of voting in the profession.
Increasing voter participation by medical professionals will require planning on their part and the part of their institutions.
The single most important question every one of them can ask right now is this: Am I registered to vote? In some states, voter registration deadlines have passed; in others, they are quickly approaching. Meanwhile, 20 states and the District of Columbia offer same-day registration on Election Day.
The next step is to make a voting plan. Many ballots include races not only for the U.S. Congress but also for governors, district attorneys, county sheriffs, city council members, and local ballot measures. Any of these can affect the health, safety, and security of communities.
The League of Women Voters has simplified the education process by creating a comprehensive nonpartisan online voter guide where individuals can quickly learn about and compare candidates, their positions on issues (if they responded to the league’s survey), and conveniently access their social media accounts.
Planning the logistics of voting is also important. Your county of residence determines if you have the option to vote by mail, vote early in person, or can vote only in person on Election Day.
Eight states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington — now allow elections to be conducted entirely by mail, and registered voters are beginning to receive their ballots. Forty five states and the District of Columbia offer early voting in person. In Massachusetts, where one of us (H.L.) lives and works, early voting began on October 22; for the other (A.H.) in Texas, it’s October 24. Residents of Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, or New Hampshire cannot vote early and need to make plans to vote on election day.
Health systems and employers can play important roles in getting out the vote.
First, they can make the non-partisan Vote411 Voter Guide easily accessible to all health care workers by sharing direct links on social media and via emails and newsletters. They can also post flyers and signage in their break-rooms and in waiting areas. Disseminating this educational information nudges voters to start planning ahead and signals that it is worth doing.
Second, because lacking the time to vote is one of the most common barriers medical professionals cite to voting — in one survey, physicians who did not vote or register to vote were 70% more likely to say they were “too busy” — employers can provide medical professionals and other health care workers with paid time off so they can exercise their right to vote without losing pay or having to juggle patient care with voting. Doing so could mean reorganizing staffing schedules and coverage to give workers a two or three-hour window of time to go vote early. It may require some scheduling creativity, but it’s important to plan to be successful.
In fact, 30 states and the District of Columbia require employers to give workers time off to vote. Laws vary by state and some require employees to provide advance notice.
Third, health care organizations and employers can learn from their peers. Before the 2018 election, about 400 companies, including Walmart and Patagonia, launched the Time to Vote coalition, recognizing that workers should not have to “choose between earning a paycheck and voting.” The coalition now includes more than 2,000 companies, though few are medical or health care organizations. Nonprofit Vote, a similar group started in 2005, helps nonprofit organizations help the people they serve to vote.
November 8 is almost upon us. There’s still time to make a voting plan and, if you like using social media, we encourage you to inspire others to vote by sharing your story online. Photos and videos are recommended. But please: Vote!
Hussain Lalani is a primary care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a fellow at the Program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law. Arthur Hong is an internist in Dallas.