When the COVID-19 pandemic halted life as we knew it in March, a group of Washington University School of Medicine students sprung into action, volunteering to help the medical and St. Louis community however they could. In just a few months’ time, that group — now called LouHealth — has grown to more than 180 student advocates from a variety of graduate programs.
The group’s focus has been on issues exacerbated or exposed by COVID-19. Consequently, among its top aims — and, at the moment, its most pressing one — is building support for Amendment 2, which would expand Medicaid in Missouri, one of 13 states yet to expand Medicaid eligibility. The initiative will be on the ballot Aug. 4.
“LouHealth is focusing its efforts on Medicaid expansion because of the potential to help alleviate health disparities that have been so prevalent during the pandemic,” said Kristin Pfeifauf, a rising second-year medical student and an attorney (JD, WashU Law ’11) who serves as one of the group’s directors. “When this ballot initiative was moved to the Aug. 4 primary election, it became even more important that we get out the vote. Voter turnout is consistently lower at primary elections compared with general elections, and we need every vote we can get for Medicaid expansion to pass.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presents yet another hurdle to strong voter turnout, Pfeifauf explained, because it may keep higher-risk individuals and others concerned about possible exposure to the coronavirus from going to the polls. To help such voters be able to cast their votes without potentially endangering themselves, the student advocates have organized free notary services so that the many people who crisscross the Medical Campus have ample opportunities, under safe conditions, to arrange for their ballots to be notarized if needed.
All registered Missouri voters are allowed to vote by mail this election, though requests for absentee and mail-in ballots needed to be made by July 22. Most individuals voting absentee have the additional hurdle of getting their ballots notarized. The only exceptions to this rule are for individuals who mark that they are voting absentee due to incapacity or confinement due to illness or physical disability; due to being the primary caregiver for someone who is incapacitated or confined due to illness or disability; or due to being at risk for contracting or transmitting COVID-19.
The students — under the leadership of LouHealth co-director Nikita Sood and the group’s Health Access & Equity team lead Emma Payne, and in association with the Gephardt Institute for Civic & Community Engagement — launched their notary initiative last week, with a table in front of the Eric P. Newman Educational Center on the Medical Campus. They are back at it this week, in front of EPNEC almost every day from Thursday, July 23, through Friday, July 31. To sign up for a time slot to get a ballot notarized on the Medical Campus, click here.
WashUVotes, through the Gephardt Institute, has arranged for notaries on the Danforth Campus. Those interested in appointments on the Danforth Campus can sign up through this link. Site details will be emailed in advance to those who sign up.
The volunteers are following a safety protocol for contactless exchanges of materials.
See LouHealth’s website for more information and details on the group’s top issues and efforts.