Healthy Democracy, Healthy People is a new nonpartisan initiative from major public health and civic engagement groups that supports public health professionals and policymakers who are working to advance civic participation and public health.
Public health researchers have long known that civic participation contributes directly and indirectly to community health. With the increasing threat of COVID-19 variants, along with continued barriers to voting for people who are immunocompromised or who are experiencing disability, the need to bring health and voting experts together to provide options for safe and healthy voting continues.
Our work with health professionals and civic engagement experts responding to the threat of COVID-19 for the 2020 elections deepened connections in our fields and highlighted new opportunities to work together. Our initiative began as VoteSAFE Public Health, comprised of the following organizations:
- American College of Preventative Medicine (ACPM)
- American Public Health Association (APHA)
- Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH)
- Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)
- Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC)
- National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
- National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI)
- Network for Public Health Law (NPHL)
- Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB)
- Trust for America's Health (TFAH)
Jeanne Ayers, Executive Director
Jeanne Ayers, R.N., M.P.H., serves as the executive director of Healthy Democracy Healthy People Initiative (previously known as VoteSAFE Public Health), a coalition of 10 national public health organizations focused on advancing health equity by assuring participation in the electoral process is available to everyone. Before joining the Initiative in 2020, Ayers held leadership roles in state governmental public health for more than 9 years. She served as the Wisconsin State Health Officer and Administrator of the Division of Public Health and as Assistant Commissioner and Chief Health Equity Strategist for the Minnesota Department of Health. Prior positions include director of nursing and preventive services and occupational health at the University of Minnesota, Boynton Health Service. She worked in professional continuing education for 15 years and founded and directed the Centers for Public Health Education and Outreach at the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.
Ayers is a recognized leader in national efforts to assure health and racial equity and improve population health. She has worked extensively with government, academia, health care, community groups and broad-based community organizers to deepen the public understanding of the social determinants of health and their relationship to race, place, class and power. She was selected as the 2010 University of Minnesota Josie R. Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award winner and led development of the award-winning report “Advancing Health Equity in Minnesota: A report to the State Legislature” by the Minnesota Department of Health. Ayers led the health equity work of the faith-based organizing group, ISAIAH, and launched and directed the Healthy Heartland Initiative, a partnership of community organizing groups and public health organizations in five Midwest states building collective capacity to impact public policy. Ayers describes her work as building power to assure the conditions necessary for health are available for all. She sees civic participation and a healthy inclusive democracy as a prerequisite to advancing health equity and creating healthy communities.
Jessica Barba Brown, Senior Advisor
In 2020, Jessica Barba Brown launched and directed We Can Vote, a nonpartisan coalition working to ensure the elections were safe, secure, and successful in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We Can Vote partnered with leading public health associations to create and promote Healthy Voting Guides for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, voting territories and for Americans abroad. Prior to helping launch We Can Vote, Jessica was the CEO of the Voter Participation Center, the nation’s largest mail program for voter registration and mobilization of underrepresented communities. She also served as Managing Director for the advocacy division at Planned Parenthood Federation of America during the organization’s largest “defunding” battle in its 100-year history. There, she oversaw day-to-day operations and management for the 160-person, $74 million division responsible for the fight-back campaign.
She also served as National Director of Communications and Organizational Development at Enroll America, the nation’s foremost health care enrollment coalition during the launch of the Health Care Marketplaces. In this role, she oversaw a team across 11 organizing states who were responsible for garnering positive media coverage encouraging people to sign up during the first few cycles of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. Later, she oversaw organizational development efforts for the staff of over 100.