Register to vote – yes, for our health

By Michael Yudell

Today, on the last day to register in Pennsylvania in order to vote in the Nov. 6th general election, let’s remember President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call to the American people to exercise their sacred duty – that's right, to register and to vote.


In October of 1944, with the war still waging, FDR called upon the American people to “not be slackers on Registration Day or Election Day.” “Every man and every woman in this nation, regardless of party, who have the right to register and to vote, and the opportunity to register and to vote,” he said, “have also the sacred obligation to register and to vote. For the free and secret ballot is the real keystone of our American constitutional system.”

FDR’s words continue to ring true today, especially here in Pennsylvania, where partisan efforts unsuccessfully sought to limit the franchise by creating onerous voter ID laws that, at least for this election cycle, have been suspended by the courts.

FDR’s words also remind me of a story that my friend Avi Winokur, the rabbi at Philadelphia’s Society Hill Synagogue, shared with his congregation during the Jewish high holidays earlier this month. His sermon was on the erosion of voting rights in the United States.

Rabbi Winokur recalled how as a child his grandmother Rachel Toubar, a naturalized American citizen who had immigrated to America to escape European anti-Semitism, would show him a personal letter she received from President Roosevelt. Though he could not recall the content of that letter 50 years later, Winokur did remember that it was a response to one the many fan letters his grandmother had sent.

“Even more than President Roosevelt, Grandma adored this country. She loved everything it stood for, and was a proud citizen,” Winokur remembered. “From the time she became a citizen until she died in her 90's,” he said, “I know that she voted in every election that she could. For her, democracy was a thing of the heart. It was sacred, and her understanding of her good fortune to be an American created within her a reverence for America and American democracy that transcended parties, platforms, personalities and the politics of the moment.”

Today, we stand to learn from FDR and his number one fan, Rachel Toubar. “The continuing health and vigor of our democratic system,” as Roosevelt elegantly reminds us, “depends upon the public spirit and devotion of its citizens which find expression in the ballot box.”

Here at The Public’s Health we encourage everyone to register — whether you are an Obama or Romney supporter, that doesn’t matter. What matters is a passionate and educated commitment to our nation and to your ideals and issues. At The Public’s Health, those issues center around supporting candidates whose policies, well, better the public’s health.

If you’ve been reading us for the past year, our priorities for public health are clear and we encourage the support of candidates for whom furthering women’s health is a priority, including improved access to family planning and expanded screening services for conditions like breast and uterine cancer.

We support candidates who believe that preventing disease is better than treating it, and we support public health prevention programs like those that reduce smoking and obesity.

We have written about the inverse relationship between poverty and health, and encourage policymakers to work toward redressing this destructive association.

We also support candidates who are in favor of gay rights and gay marriage. Stigmatizing gay and lesbian Americans can only harm their health, leading to increased risk for suicide among gay teens, for example. Research has shown that gay marriage can actually improve the health of homosexuals by reducing stress and by adding the social and economic benefits that can come with marriage.

The support of environmental protection that does not sacrifice our long-term health interests for short-term economic gain must be a priority. Here we’d include policies that fairly regulate the shale-gas industry, as well as strengthen regulations that protect us from toxic chemicals.

Climate change, perhaps the most pressing public health issue of our time, has gone largely ignored in the current presidential campaign, and we must push to make it a public health priority. As the American Public Health Association points out, “populations already at increased risk from death and disease, such as communities of color, the elderly, young children, and the poor, will bear the burden of disease and death from climate change.”

Finally, if you believe that health is a human right, then the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction. Threats to repeal this program will only harm the public’s health, and both parties can do better than to play politics with the public health prevention fund that was created by health reform.

Whether or not you agree with what’s written above, exercise your democratic birthright and register today.

Registration here in Pennsylvania is relatively quick and easy. (If you want to register to vote in another state, follow this link.) In the Keystone State you can do it by mail or in person. Just print out the form embedded in this link, fill it out, and make sure it is postmarked today (Tuesday, Oct. 9).You can also register in person, same deadline, at any of the following locations:

  • PennDOT
  • State offices that provide public assistance and services to persons with disabilities
  • Armed Forces Recruitment Centers
  • County Clerk of Orphans' Court offices, including each Marriage License Bureau
  • Area Agencies on Aging
  • Centers for Independent Living
  • County Mental Health and Mental Retardation offices
  • Student disability services offices of the State System of Higher Education
  • Offices of Special Education
  • DA Complementary Paratransit offices

If you live in New Jersey, you're in luck: You have one more week!

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