REPORT: Health Equity Depends on What Happens at the Ballot Box
The Tennessee Justice Center has authored a policy brief that explains the cyclic relationship between voting and health, as well as the impact of politics on health care.
According to the brief, voting creates a sense of belonging to the community, which leads to happier and healthier lives and empowers people to advocate for better health policies.
The brief goes on to point out there are significantly lower voting rates among marginalized groups due to accessibility, voter suppression laws, and unmet basic needs – like affordable housing. A vicious cycle is created that results in underserved communities not getting the help and resources they need, translating to poorer health conditions and lower voter turnout.
Providing more people with access to the ballot box can lead to better health. The paper notes, for example, that after women gained voting rights with passage of the 19th amendment, maternal and infant mortality rates decreased significantly. COVID brought attention to the relationship between public health and voting, as accommodations were made that ensured everyone, including people with disabilities and medical conditions, could vote safely, which contributed to 66.8% of eligible voters participating in the 2020 election—the highest turnout rate of the 21st century.
Matia Powell, Executive Director of Civic TN, said in a press release, “Voting is one of the most important ways that people can shape policies that have a direct impact on their lives and their communities. This paper explains how voting impacts not just health care itself, but all the social determinants of health in a clear message that every person who cares about preserving our democracy should receive. In working to engage voters, Civic TN recognizes the barriers they face, such as disenfranchisement efforts and lack of access to basic needs, that leads to lower voter turnout and the vicious cycle that TJC highlights in this paper. It is particularly important for marginalized communities to understand the connection, push against the barriers, and vote to bring about the changes that are necessary to achieve health equity.”