No excuses, find a way to vote this year

Be sure to talk politics with your family, children

FOR THE LAST three-and-a-half years, we’ve heard the same question over and over: “What happened in 2016?“  The fact is, we know what happened. More than 100 million votes that should have been cast, weren’t. When asked why they hadn’t exercised their right to vote, more than half of eligible voting age adults responded that they had never been offered the chance to register. This year, the chances are even greater that people will stay away from the polls.

As both a physician, and the president and chief operating officer of Boston Children’s Hospital, I find this very concerning, and I am urging everyone to register to vote and to use their vote to make a positive difference in the health of our children. Voting is absolutely essential to advocate for improving the health and well-being of children and families and, in turn, the health and well-being of our nation.

Looking at the biggest possible picture, in medicine and public health we talk a lot about primary prevention. That means addressing the social conditions that impact the health and well-being of families. Housing, employment, access to healthy food and quality education, and the pervasive effects of systemic racism are all concerns that have been exacerbated this year by the COVID-19 pandemic. To be part of creating a healthier future, we should support and vote for social policies that impact better health outcomes for all.

While fear of COVID-19 is a significant concern for many debating the actual safety of voting this year, we cannot ignore the issues of social and racial inequality when it comes to voter turnout. In 2016, a disproportionately large share of eligible voters who were not registered were people of color. This must change. We have spent so much of this year focused on the pandemic, but for many members of our community, along with a fear of the virus there are fears about safety and the safety of families and loved onesbecause of the color of their skin.

Finally, I urge everyone to make voting something we discuss with our families. We’ve become a culture that doesn’t like to talk about politics or the process around it, because that can lead to uncomfortable disagreements. But if we can’t talk about these matters, our understanding of them is diminished.

Kevin Churchwell, president and chief operating officer of Boston Children’s Hospital.

I am inspired by the number of younger voters who are so eager to participate in their first election. Families can help spread that enthusiasm one step further, involving younger children in the process. When we talk about the issues, when we volunteer, and when we cast our vote—especially when we’re speaking out on behalf of children—we are modeling the best kind of civic commitment. We’re setting the stage for a future where discourse about the issues leads to greater understanding.

All of which leads to the most important question: In a time when there are more legitimate fears about going to the polls than ever, how can we vote safely? While it’s true that there is some increased fear about voting in person, the pandemic has also resulted in the expansion of mail-in voting.  It provides the opportunity to engage in our civic rights while also physically distancing and doing our part to reduce the spread of the virus. We live in a state that has made it easy to vote from the safety of our own homes.

If you’re already registered to vote, you should have received a vote-by-mail application by now. If you have not, or you still need to register to vote, click here for more information. If you do plan vote in person, consider early voting. This option allows you to vote prior to election day, giving you more time and importantly space and physical distancing, to cast your ballot. You can find more information on early voting here.

Meet the Author

Kevin Churchwell

President and chief operating officer, Boston Children's Hospital
With all that has occurred in our society, to say that this has been a year unlike any other is probably the understatement of the century. These are challenging times but with so much at stake, we can’t afford to let apathy or fear prevent any of us from letting our voices be heard.

Kevin Churchwell is the president and chief operating officer of Boston Children’s Hospital.