Skip to content
  1. Latest From the Blog

“Vote Like Your Health Depends on It:” VotER Initiative Rolls out through Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine VotER Badge Backer

Penn Medicine is participating in an online voter registration initiative called VotER ahead of the November election to help patients, visitors, faculty, staff, and trainees become more civically engaged.

VotER, a national, nonpartisan organization, seeks to bring voter registration to health systems by helping patients and visitors easily register to vote and sign up for a mail-in ballot. The organization also provides automated reminders so that individuals are prepared to vote. Helping patients and visitors request an absentee ballot this year will allow them to avoid exposure to SARS-CoV-2 while waiting in line at the polls.

Dr. Alister Martin, an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Founder and Executive Director of VotER, has been featured in The New York Times for his work on this unique initiative. And as someone interested in behavioral economics, Dr. Martin has applied principles from the field to this project.

CHIBE Trainee Yoonhee Ha, MSc, MPhil, and her co-lead, Zonía Moore, a second-year medical student, have been working on the VotER roll-out at Penn by securing funding and printing 1,100 badge backers (see image on the right) for distribution to health care providers throughout Penn Medicine and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They have also been leading grassroots efforts to recruit and train health care providers to use these badge backers and encourage all patients and visitors to register to vote. The two students are advised by Judd Flesch, MD, in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care.

Ha noted that the concepts she learned from HCIN 602: Behavioral Economics and Decision Making, a course taught by CHIBE Director Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, a lab rotation with CHIBE Associate Director Alison Buttenheim, PhD, MBA, and research projects with Penn Medicine Nudge Unit Director Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, MS, have been particularly helpful to her work with VotER.

Some examples of the behavioral economics and related principles that VotER uses include nudges to registered voters via automated text and email messages, framing of messaging to highlight the importance of voting to health, social norming of health care provider engagement and prompting of conversations through the use of salient badge backers and social media, and regular feedback to medical schools and states via leaderboards that are updated every 15 minutes.

There is a friendly competition between medical schools across the country to help the most patients register to vote, and right now, Penn is in first place. The winning school will receive a donation to a charity of their choice.

To register to vote and/or request a mail-in ballot, you can visit, text VOTE PENN to 34444, or scan the QR code you may find on badge backers or posters at Penn. You can also help others to do the same by watching a 4-minute video and sharing the URL and phone number on social media and tagging @Penn Medicine and @vot_er_org. Health care providers can also pick up a badge backer from the information desks at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (ground and first floors) and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Silverstein Building (first floor) during business hours. The last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania is October 19, 2020.