Progressive Community Health Centers in Milwaukee is part of a nationwide voter registration effort to sign up patients to vote in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.
It’s called VotER.
Patients get connected to a voter registration website by scanning a QR code on lanyards and posters around the clinics. Now that online voter registration is closed in Wisconsin, patients can fill out their application and then print it out and mail it in or take it in in-person. A live person can still help them through the process online.
Sarah Francois is director of fund development and marketing at Progressive. Its three clinics, on the northwest side of the city, serve roughly 15,000 patients annually, targeting underserved and underrepresented communities.
More than 90% of patients are low income, and about 84% are Black, with a growing number of Hmong and Burmese refugees.
Progressive connected with VotER in late February. Francois explains the basic idea of the plan—to put up voter registration kiosks throughout waiting rooms. “So why not empower people to register to vote while they might be waiting or doing something else or waiting for someone else at the ER,” she says.
Then COVID-19 hit. “We didn't have much of an opportunity to use the kiosk itself because a lot of our clinic access was restricted once the pandemic really started taking hold, so we were kind of collaborating with the VotER team on how we could reach out to our patients, even if we weren't seeing them in person,” says Francois.
They started a monthly text message campaign in April for voting-age patients. The texts say things like, 'don't forget to register to vote, you can click here to do that, you can also click here to request your mail in ballot.'
“We've also put fliers into all of our COVID testing kits. So when somebody comes to us for a COVID test, they get a packet of information, some masks, some wipes, things like that. And we've also included voter registration information in there.”
Finally, medical staff wears badges dangling from lanyards that have QR codes on them.
The badges can spark conversation with patients about the voter registration process, because a lot of times, patients have really trusted relationships with their health care providers, especially now, says Francois.
“And so if their providers wearing something, there's often a conversation like, ‘Hey, what's around your neck? Oh, did you know we're supporting this voter registration effort? Have you updated your registration? Do you know where you need to go to vote?’” she says.
Francois explains that if someone patients trust is asking them about something directly, they’re much more likely to follow through, than when they’re getting a random solicitation.