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CHCs Get Out The Vote

CHCs Get Out The Vote

Written By: Sarah Franҫois, Director of Fund Development & Marketing at Progressive Community Health Centers in Milwaukee, WI

Thinking back to early March seems like an entirely different era. Just as we were ready to launch voter registration kiosks in our lobby at Progressive Community Health Centers, the coronavirus pandemic put the world on lockdown and forced us to reevaluate the way in which we deliver personalized healthcare to our underserved urban community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a Community Health Center (CHC), we have always been focused on providing quality, equitable care in a way that is accessible for all.

That responsibility stretches beyond the four walls of our clinics. It also requires us to address the social and civic health of our community. As the late Representative John Lewis once said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy”. We know that empowered voices build healthy communities. It is that sentiment that inspired us to get creative in actively engaging our patients in the democratic process.

Voter participation is the bedrock of any democracy. That is particularly true in Wisconsin, where the 2016 presidential election was decided by less than one percentage point. Historically, Wisconsin has one of the nation’s highest rates of voter participation, but this varies widely by county and region. The 2016 presidential race represented the lowest voter turnout in the city of Milwaukee in almost two decades. In Milwaukee’s five poorest zip codes (most of which are located within Progressive Community Health Centers’ service area), the decline in turnout from 2012 to 2016 was much greater than the drop seen in more prosperous areas — accounting for half of the overall drop citywide. As a trusted resource in our community, Progressive Community Health Centers hopes to reverse this trend by increasing civic engagement. This includes ensuring our patients know how to check their voter registration status, register to vote, and request an absentee ballot in order to vote safely.

Luckily, we’ve had some help from a nonprofit group called VotER. VotER is a nonpartisan organization founded by medical professionals who share the common belief that our healthcare system is stronger when we, as providers and patients, become civically engaged. Using technology, we were able to stay connected to our patients during safer at home orders and empower their voices. VotER helped us craft text messages that we send to patients on a monthly basis.1 The messages are simple reminders that link to TurboVote, allowing patients to register to vote in a few easy steps using their smartphone or computer. As patients have begun safely returning to our clinics for in-person care, they are also greeted by posters and staff wearing Health Democracy badges. The badge kits include a QR code for easy scanning and electronic accessibility to the VotER platform. We’ve been able to bring back the voter registration kiosk in our waiting area, too.

We are proud to be one of VotER’s first Community Health Center partners and have been helping the organization test their messaging and strategy over the past several months. We’ve received lots of positive feedback from our patients, many of whom have reached out to say they are already registered and look forward to voting in the upcoming election. We’ve also helped more than 100 patients update their voter registration. In the coming weeks, our outreach will be focused on encouraging patients to create safe voting plans and request mail-in ballots.

We have been inspired by the responsiveness of patients and staff to our voter registration efforts. Our leadership has decided to take this commitment to the democratic process even further by making Election Day a paid holiday for every employee on our team. We will encourage staff to not only vote, but also become involved with election efforts as they are able.

The coronavirus has forced us to change the way in which we interact with our patients and the community. We all can show up for our communities in a positive way by exercising our right to vote and encouraging others to do the same.

How you can take action today:

  • Ensure your voter registration status is accurate and up-to-date, or register to vote if you’re not yet registered, by clicking here.
  • Get personalized voter registration resources for your Community Health Center here.
  • Send your friends, family, and colleagues the link to check their voter registration status and post the link on social media.
  • Put together your safe voting plan:
    • See if you can vote early in your state to avoid crowds,
    • See if you can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail,
    • Or if you must vote in person on election day, make sure you know where your polling location is, come prepared with hand sanitizer, and wear a mask.


Prior to sending any voting-related texts, all patients were sent a text that described Progressive Community Health Center’s use of the texting platform would include providing patients with health-related updates as well used to share initiatives that Progressive Community Health Center is working on. All patients were given the option to opt-out of receiving text messages.