Medical schools and teaching hospitals can support an inclusive democracy by encouraging civic engagement among students, staff, and patients. Nonpartisan voter registration is a simple yet effective way for these institutions to advance their commitment to health equity and is allowable under federal law.
The AAMC has developed this fact sheet in collaboration with Vot-ER, a nonpartisan organization that works to integrate voter education and registration into health care settings.
Federal Law Allows Health Care Institutions to Engage in Nonpartisan Voter Registration Efforts
National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)
The NVRA requires states to designate offices as voter registration agencies that provide registration opportunities to their constituents. Under the NVRA, hospitals and other health care institutions are allowed to facilitate nonpartisan voter registration activities and/or seek designation as voter registration agencies.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
HIPAA codifies national standards to protect patient health information from being disclosed without consent from the patients. Voter engagement is a voluntary, opt-in activity. Because individuals enter their own demographic information in voter registration tools, voter registration efforts at health care institutions that do not use protected health information are not impacted by HIPAA regulations.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code
Public health care institutions and public or private nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to conduct voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities as long as they are conducted in a neutral, nonpartisan manner.
Recent Actions by Government Agencies Encourage Health Care and Educational Institutions to Participate in Nonpartisan Voter Registration Activities
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) March 2022
HRSA, the government agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that funds federally qualified health centers, released guidance encouraging these centers to “support non-partisan voter registration efforts as a means of reducing barriers to civic engagement within the communities they serve.” These voter registration efforts may include “making available voter registration materials to patients, encouraging patients to register to vote, assisting patients with completing registration forms, sending completed forms to the election authorities, providing voter registration materials in waiting rooms, and allowing private, non-partisan organizations to conduct on-site voter registration.”
Department of Education (DOE) April 2022
The DOE sent a Dear Colleague letter to all university presidents emphasizing the requirement of higher education institutions administering federal student aid, including medical colleges, to provide voter registration materials to their communities. The letter encourages institutions to participate in the following activities:
- Distributing mail and/or electronic voter registration forms to students.
- Providing federal work study funds for nonpartisan voter registration efforts.
- Supporting students who are abroad to vote by mail.
- Encouraging faculty, staff, and students to volunteer to be an election poll worker.
- Registering the institution as a ballot drop box location, early voting site, and Election Day voting site.
Guidance For Voter Registration at Health Care Institutions
Allowed and encouraged activities:
- Asking students, staff, or patients if they would like to register to vote and point them to voter registration resources.
- Telling students, staff, or patients that the institution offers a service to help them register to vote but that it does not endorse any political party.
- Helping students, staff, or patients fill out voter registration forms while remaining neutral.
- Sending completed forms to the election authorities.
Activities to avoid in registering voters:
- Do not state or imply that voters should vote a particular way.
- Do not communicate party or candidate preferences.
- Do not mention policy positions or party platforms.