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Time to engage: A robust democratic process shapes community health

Research suggests that people who live in communities with strong civic involvement actually have better overall health.

As a health organization, Blue Cross sees civic engagement as integral to our mission of improving community health across the state. We’ve been championing civic engagement for nearly 20 years through our CitizenBlue program, and we believe community health is shaped by the strength of the democratic process.

In a participatory democracy, high civic engagement ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and that their basic needs are represented. In fact, research suggests that people who live in communities with strong civic involvement actually have better overall health.

To take it a step further, research also shows that social and environmental conditions can affect up to 60% of our individual health outcomes. That makes politics personal. Our elected officials drive public policy – which has a direct effect on our individual experience of health and well-being.

When more people in a community make their voices heard on Election Day, more of their personal health needs will be served by policies and programs. Policies that provide for accessible, equitable, high-quality health care. Access to healthy foods. Clean air and water. And safe neighborhood spaces for socializing, exercise and recreation.

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In 2016, 75% voted in Minnesota

In spite of the privilege and benefits of voting, only 55% of eligible Americans participated in the 2016 presidential election. By contrast, Minnesota had the highest voter turnout in the nation, with about 75% of eligible voters participating.

Dr. Craig Samitt
Dr. Craig Samitt
Two years later, in the 2018 midterm elections, Minnesota again claimed the nation’s highest voter turnout, at 64%. Blue Cross employees did even better than that, with 88% voting.

We know how to get out the vote at Blue Cross, and we do it in a nonpartisan way. So do other companies. Along with Target, Spotify, Endeavor, Gap and others, Blue Cross was nationally recognized in a Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center case study for successfully encouraging employee participation in the democratic process.

What makes us proud is that our CitizenBlue program is run by a grassroots team of associates from across the company – and it has been called one of the most robust corporate civic engagement programs in the country.

Voter safety is paramount during the pandemic

Most important, we want to sustain our state’s tradition of strong voter engagement. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that our voting processes keep Minnesotans healthy and safe. That’s why we are looking to our state’s leaders for vigilance now, and for their assurance that all eligible voters will have the means and tools to safely exercise their fundamental democratic right.

Minnesota’s leaders will need to ensure that those who don’t feel safe voting in-person can easily access mail-in ballots – and assure them that their ballots will be protected and secure. In keeping with our record participation rates, Minnesota’s election officials have already reported the largest expansion of mail-in voting in state history. Let’s keep it going.

And for those who prefer to vote in-person, our neighborhood polling places will need all the support they can get. At Blue Cross, we’re encouraging associates who are interested and able to volunteer as election judges. From a health safety perspective, careful configuration to ensure proper distancing is a must. We know that poll workers and election judges will be equipped with masks and sanitizers. We encourage all voters to wear masks as well.

Additional safety measures – such as face shields for workers and plexiglass partitions – would help minimize the spread of the Coronavirus on Election Day. And with more options to safely vote, the higher the voter turnout, the stronger our democracy and the healthier our community.

We’re confident that most Blue Cross employees will cast their votes in the upcoming election. We hope that every eligible voter who wishes to participate in their democracy is able to do so, too – safely and confidently. No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote.

Craig Samitt, M.D., is the president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

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