The Vot-ER Healthy Democracy Campaign: A National Medical Student Competition to Increase Voting Access

Acad Med. 2022 Jan 1;97(1):89-92. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004381.


Problem: Voting affords citizens a direct say in the leaders and policies that affect their health. However, less than 20% of eligible U.S. citizens have been offered the chance to register to vote at a government-funded agency like a hospital or clinic that provides Medicaid or Medicare services. Medical students are well positioned to increase voting access due to their interactions with multiple actors in health care settings, including patients, visitors, colleagues, and others.

Approach: Vot-ER, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that aims to promote civic engagement in health care settings, launched the inaugural Healthy Democracy Campaign from July 20 to October 9, 2020. As part of this national, gamification-based competition, medical student captains were recruited to lead teams of health care trainees and professionals that helped eligible adults start the voter registration and/or mail-in ballot request process before the November 2020 elections. Post competition, medical student captains were surveyed about their motivations for participating and skills and knowledge gained.

Outcomes: In total, 128 medical student captains at 80 medical schools in 31 states and the District of Columbia formed teams that helped 15,692 adults start the voter registration and/or mail-in ballot request process. Eighty-two (64.1%) captains responded to the post competition survey, representing 56 (70.0%) of the participating schools. The top-ranked motivation for participating in the campaign was the desire to address social and racial inequities (37, 45.1%). Respondents reported gaining skills and knowledge in several aspects of civic engagement, including community organizing (67, 81.7%) and voting rights (63, 76.8%). The majority of respondents planned to incorporate voter registration into their future practice (76, 92.7%).

Next steps: Future Healthy Democracy Campaigns will aim to continue closing the voting access gap and promote the long-term inclusion of hands-on civic engagement in medical education and practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Civil Rights
  • Democracy
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Politics
  • Students, Medical*
  • United States