By The Rev. Dr. Ebony D. Only

In our work at Bishop Anderson House, as the inaugural Community Chaplain Fellow, I am working to influence healthcare leaders to find creative ways to address the social determinants of health which have been proven to improve outcomes.  I have been encouraging those with the power and influence to do so, to implore health care systems to proactively screen patients for social needs (i.e., housing, food, legal assistance) and connect patients to existing community resources to address those needs.  These practices are critical while we work to change the policies that drive the systemic causes of limited to access to healthcare.

Changing these policies means that it is imperative that we do not lose sight of the importance of voting and representation as we consider how to address health inequities and disparities to access to care in the communities in which we live and serve.  As much as social determinants are important, so are the political determinants of health.  “It’s important to realize that for every social determinant of health, there was some preceding legislative, legal, regulatory or other policy decision that resulted in that social determinant. Those are the political determinants of health,” said Daniel Dawes, JD in a recent virtual seminar at Penn State University during which he and other experts discussed the ties between structural racism, voting rights and health equity.

In 2013, the SCOTUS ruling removed the requirement that the federal government review and approve any changes to state voting laws for states who had a history of discrimination in voting.  The ruling stated that this requirement to clear any changes for states, jurisdictions, and localities with a history of voter discrimination were outdated and unnecessary.

The late, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the dissenting opinion for the four Justices who disagreed.  In it she writes, “throwing out preclearance when it has worked, and is continuing to work, to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”  The rainstorm is now the myriad of states who have introduced legislation requiring voter ID, elimination of same day and early voting and other changes that have disparate impact on marginalized communities.

How does this impact our communities?  The convenience of voting is vitally important in communities who are heavily populated with hourly workers who are often also faced with limited time before or after work due to the need to care for children and parents.  Put simply, taking an unpaid hour or in some states 4 hours to vote, simply isn’t an option.  It would mean missing pay required to provide for the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter.

It is important to protect the voting rights of our sisters and brothers because without representation, our communities have less of a chance and opportunity to influence the policies that would expand access to healthcare and ultimately improve health outcomes.  I am hoping today, you will join me in advocating for those who have been most greatly impacted by the suppression of their vote by signing this ACLU Petition.