Resources to Help You Get Out (and Protect) the Vote

By Molly Coye, M.D. and Chris Cassel, M.D. | Published 10/10/2020 16

Vote (iStock Photos)

The election is just days away, and we’re grateful to Dr. Pat Salber for giving us this opportunity to address you directly. As physicians concerned about the health of the public, we know that the choices we all make for our leaders—at the federal, state, and local levels—have a direct impact on our lives. That’s why we are providing you with resources to help you get out (and protect) the vote.

Because of the critical nature of this election, we’ve boiled down all the wisdom about how to encourage voter participation in 5 big steps. And, we have included a list of active links to trusted resources that will help you do the work. Just scroll down until you get to a step you haven’t taken – and start there!

1.  Vote – and vote early

    •  State by state information on early voting

States vary, allowing in-person early voting, or drop-offs of mail-in ballots; check the resources here for state-by-state information.

  • When mail-in ballots can be counted in each state

It is critically important that you do everything you can to ensure your ballot is counted on election day – or very soon thereafter. This is because of concerns that there could be a push to call the election before all of the mail-in ballots have been counted.

The two sites below provide information about the rules around counting absentee ballots. Use this information to help you decide if you should send your ball by mail or mask up and vote in person. 

Check here for permanent state-by-state policies on counting mail-in ballots. But also check this list for important changes related to counting mail-in ballots made for 2020 only.
  • Special rules in some states about how to properly fill out and mail in your ballot 

Be sure that you thoroughly understand any special rules about preparing your ballot for mail-in. Does your signature need to be witnessed? Do you need to place the ballot in a “secrecy envelope” before placing it in the mailing envelope? Do you have to put a stamp on the envelope. Here are some resources to learn the requirements in your area:

Four states have witnessing requirements:

      • Alabama (2 witnesses)
      • Alaska (1 witness)
      • Virginia (1 witness)
      • Wisconsin (1 witness)

Secrecy envelope rules by state

State-by-state requirements to put postage on your mail-in ballot

  • Know where ballot drop-off boxes are located in your community

Since this can vary community by community, the best way to do this is to do an internet search for “location of mail-in ballot drop boxes in (name of your county).” You can also go to the website of your County Recorder. 

Have a back-up plan if there is some problem with your local drop boxes (e.g., mail it in early, take it in person to your polling place).

2.  Help get out the vote 

  • Persuade at least 3 other people to vote

Try to persuade at least 3 other people who aren’t sure they’re going to vote that they should. Be sure to do the following:

      • Tell them why they should vote
      • Have them tell you how, when, and where they plan to vote.
      • Be sure to ask if they need help – then follow-up by actually helping them  

Only 60% of people who register to vote actually vote, so this is critical. Hearing directly from a friend, family member or someone they respect is the best way to activate hesitant voters.

  • Help get out the vote at scale

When you’ve done that, GOTV (GET OUT THE VOTE) AT SCALE! Phone bank, text bank, or send postcards and letters. One of our friends has sent 60,000 texts so far, and is still plugging away!

3. Volunteer for an election voter assistance hotline

As described above, in many places in our country, voting is now more complicated than in the past (see Rules and procedures have changed, in part, because of COVID 19. Unfounded claims about voting by mail have raised voter concerns, while unprecedented numbers of voters are requesting mail-in ballots.

Voter assistance hotlines are an important means of allaying voter concerns and providing practical information. The best organizations provide short online training sessions for specific states. They will arm you with well-organized information down to the county and polling station level.

4. Recruit a lawyer for voter protection efforts 

To counter voter suppression efforts and provide rapid legal advice and assistance for voters and for poll watchers, join with efforts to recruit lawyers, paralegals, and other experts for voter protection. If you have these skills, volunteer, please! 

5.  Encourage your employees to vote

If you have employees, encourage them to vote – and vote early. Then make it easy for them. Many employers start by offering release time for employees to vote on election day.

As the importance of voting early has emerged, more employers are offering release time for early voting. Some are even providing time for employees to volunteer for voter assistance and voter protection programs.

Now, jump in – and if you’re already supporting this election, double down on your efforts!

Where should you begin?

Where should you begin?  Let us start by saying there is no bad option. The best course is what gets you fired up – so fired up that you will

      • jump in immediately
      • make a stretch commitment
      • bring in your friends
      • double down in the critical days ahead.

Here is a shortlist of the wide variety of ways to support participation in this election.

Note: bipartisan or non-profit organizations are *starred. (And credit to Margaret Laws, our compatriot in preparing this list of resources!)

Resources to help you get the job done

Voting Requirements in Each State, State-by-state:

Get out the vote and protect the vote 

  • Texting

This is painless and so efficient. You can do it from your phone but it’s easier from a laptop.  The training takes < 20 minutes and the technology is turnkey.

Also, it feels great to provide critical guidance like “don’t forget you’ll need a witness when completing your absentee ballot” and “please identify 3 friends you’ll remind to get registered this weekend”.  In one hour you can reach thousands of voters.

Here are some links to get you started:

Ballotpedia – Early voting dates 2020

  • Recruit staff for the polls, ensure adequate PPE, or sign up to work as a poll watcher*

Power the Polls*

Poll observers monitor outside polling locations for 6-8 hour shifts each day. They serve as eyes and ears to report on anything that threatens vote, including: 

      • long lines to
      • late openings to
      • voter misinformation to
      • suppressive or intimidating behavior. 

You do not need to be a lawyer.

Observers are needed as soon as polls open in each state – and needs are especially dire in IA, FL, OH, and NH.

Here is a link to the Biden Voter Protection Program 

And, here are poll watcher requirements, state by state*

  • Nearly 85% of Americans can vote by mail – make sure they know how to do it

NBC News guide to planning your vote – state by state*

  • Poll worker recruitment calls to younger folks who’ve served in the past

The shortage of poll workers is at crisis levels and, if unresolved, will result in poll closings, misinformation, and long lines — particularly for voters of color. 

Pick your state:  WI, MI, or NC 

  • Staff voter assistance hotlines

There is so much voter confusion in this crazy election year (see: pandemic, suppression, misinformation).  One of us (CC) staffs a hotline run by the non-partisan Election Protection coalition and one run by the Wisconsin Democratic Party. 

You can do the same by contacting Biden’s campaign (which will plug you into the swing state of your choice) (no legal background required) or by contacting Election Protection* (lawyers only, although you need not be actively practicing). 

The shifts are 3-4 hours long but you get significant downtime in between calls.  (That will not be the case on November 3!)  Training and a cheat sheet are provided and a captain will back you up if you’re stumped. 

  • Write to voters

While raging at the news, write letters as part of The Big Sends* efforts to prod 15 million infrequent, Democratic-leaning voters in swing states. It’s very easy and very cathartic. 

These will be mailed en masse on October 17. This is early enough to surmount USPS delays, late enough to maximize their effectiveness in prompting turnout.

For teens and studentsCampus Vote* and Rock the Vote*

For womenShe the People*

Lesser-known but critical targets for donations:

  • Making sure that defective ballots are corrected

This is also known as “ballot curing.” This is important because it is expected that mail-in voting will reach historic levels this election. But, a significant percentage of those mailed-in ballots are at risk of being rejected for one reason or another.

America Votes* is coordinating a rigorous multi-state program to identify voters whose ballots are problematic. They then contact them and help them “cure” the problem pursuant to state rules that are varied and complex. 

This is expensive on a cost per vote basis. But, unlike many last-stretch voting programs, we know this will help incrementally. Further, it could be decisive in the razor-thin election scenarios we anticipate in certain states. 

Support this work by donating here.  (And you can also contribute here to ballot-curing calls to NC Democrats who’ve already voted by mail, and are at risk of having their ballots rejected. They’re often unaware and highly motivated to fix their ballots. 

  • Importance of control of the House of Representatives 

In the unlikely-but-far-from-impossible event of an Electoral College tie, the House of Representatives would choose our next president. Each state would cast one vote. That vote would be determined by the party in control.

Republicans now hold the majority in 26 states. However, the newly-elected House will cast the deciding vote. 8 House victories would give Democrats the majority needed to elect Biden.  

Give here to support the candidates in these districts. Your contribution will be split among those 8 candidates. All are outstanding leaders in their own right and are slugging it out in very tight races.  

  • Combatting Pennsylvania’s “naked ballot” problem*

PA is now arguably the most important state in the presidential election. This will be PA’s first large-scale vote-by-mail election. Voter confusion is rife.

Further, a state law that requires the discarding of ballots not returned in a special secrecy envelope–the so-called “naked ballot law”–threatens to invalidate over 100,000 votes. The vast majority of them are expected to be from Democratic voters. 

The Voter Project PA, a well-respected 501(c)3 voter education group, will be running a broadcast TV campaign to educate voters on the four steps required to return a valid ballot (including using the secrecy envelope). 

Make your tax-deductible contribution here via their funding partner, Keystone Research, and indicate that your gift is for The Voter Project Fund.

  • Montana Native Vote

Here’s a high-leverage way for you to make a difference in a place with outsized impact. In Montana, native communities are battling for voting rights.

Also, the outcome of Steve Bullock’s race could very well determine control of the Senate. Bullock’s fate will likely depend on how many Native American voters are able to cast their ballots. ~80% of Native Americans tend to vote Democratic.

The same is true for Democrat Kathleen Williams. She is running to flip Montana’s single House seat. She is one of our 8 “break the Electoral College tie” candidates mentioned above.

The pandemic has not only devastated Montana’s seven reservations, but it has also made voter registration nearly impossible. You can make a donation here.  

Final thoughts

It has been so exciting to watch the tremendous, creative, dedicated involvement of citizen activists grow over the summer and early fall. And every time we phone bank, or text bank, or staff a hotline, or send in a donation, we are energized even more. 

There are only a few weeks left – so join us, please, and get out there!!

We can rest after we win.  We must win it all.  Leave it all on the field. 


Molly Coye, M.D. and Chris Cassel, M.D.

Molly Coye, M.D.

Dr. Molly Coye is Executive in Residence at AVIA, the leading network for health
systems seeking to transform through the deployment of digital solutions. She is also an executive sponsor for the Medicaid Transformation Project that focuses on
scalable solutions to address the needs of vulnerable populations. Dr. Coye also advises national and international governments, health systems, and policymakers about disruptive technologies and business models.

Dr. Coye is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the
Institute of Medicine). She also serves on the Founder’s Council of United States of
Care. She is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Amedisys
(AMED), Ginger, and ConsejoSano, as well as HealthTech4Medicaid, a nonprofit
established to advance digital solutions for underserved populations.

From 2005-2018, Dr. Coye was a member of the board of directors of Aetna, Inc, where she served on the Executive Committee and Investment and Finance Committee and chaired the Medical Affairs Committee. From 2010 – 2015, Dr. Coye was the Chief
Innovation Officer for UCLA Health where she led the health system in identifying
new strategies, technologies, products, and services. From 2001 to the present, Dr.
Coye has also served as an advisor to three venture investment firms,. She is on the
advisory board of more than a dozen venture-backed young companies developing
digital health services.

In 2000, Dr. Coye founded and led HealthTech, which became the premier
forecasting organization for emerging technologies in health care. She previously
served as Commissioner of Health for the State of New Jersey, Director of the
California State Department of Health Services, and Head of the Division of Public
Health Practice at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, as
chair of the board of PATH and the American Public Health Association, and on
the boards of the American Hospital Association, the American Telemedicine
Association, The California Endowment, and the China Medical Board.

Chris Cassel, M.D.

Christine K. Cassel is an internist and geriatrician, Senior Advisor for Strategy and Policy in the Department of Medicine at UCSF, where she is working on biomedical ethics and the role of technology in health care including the use of patient data in big data applications such as artificial intelligence.

Prior to coming to UCSF in 2018, Dr. Cassel served as Planning Dean for the new Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. From 2013-2016 she was the President and CEO of the National Quality Forum. Prior to that served as president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the ABIM Foundation.

Dr. Cassel was one of 20 scientists serving President Obama on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). She is a leading expert in geriatrics and policy for an aging society, in bioethics, and in professional standards and quality of care.

In her academic career she has served as Dean of the School of Medicine at Oregon Health and Sciences University, as Chairman of the Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Chief of General Internal Medicine at the University of Chicago.

Among her many professional achievements and honors, Dr. Cassel was elected to membership of the National Academy of Medicine in 1992. She was the first woman to be President of the American College of Physicians and, subsequently, first woman Chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine. She has served as Chair of the Board of the Greenwall Foundation, a national foundation for bioethics, was the President of the American Federation for Aging Research; and was a member of the Advisory Committee to the Director at the National Institutes of Health


She currently advises a number of start-up companies using information science to advance healthcare quality. She has received numerous honorary degrees and is a Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Medicine of the U.K. and Canada. She is author of over 200 articles and author or editor of 11 books, including one of the leading textbooks in geriatric medicine, and Medicare Matters: What Geriatric Medicine Can Teach American Health Care.


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