Health & Democracy Index


This analysis compares 12 public health indicators and voter turnout to the Cost of Voting Index for U.S. states for the 2020 general election. All indicators and measures were selected based on an analysis of published literature linking civic participation and health.

Civic Participation

Cost of Voting in the American States: 2020

The Cost of Voting Index (COVI) was developed by political science researchers at Northern Illinois University and was first published in 2016 as an analysis of the relative cost of voting in presidential election cycles from 1996-2016. The cost of voting refers to the time and effort associated with casting a vote and is intended to characterize the overall electoral climate in each state or, in other words, the extent to which each state embraces inclusivity in the electoral process versus restriction or exclusion.

The COVI was most recently updated in December of 2020 to reflect recent state changes in automatic voter registration, early and absentee voting, and changes to voting locations, among other things. The 2020 COVI is constructed from nine issue areas, including:

Notably, the 2020 COVI used for this analysis does not include changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is a COVID Cost of Voting Index for 2020 in the publication by Dr. Scot Schraufnagel and colleagues referenced below.

Voter turnout

This is one of the most common measures of civic engagement in the literature reviewed. It is the percent of eligible voters who cast a vote in a given election. This matters because participation in elections shapes policy. This analysis uses turnout data from the most recent general election in 2020, as reported by the non-partisan U.S. Elections Project.

Health Outcomes

The public health indicators selected include individual health measures as well as factors that influence health outcomes, also known as determinants of health. Indicators are only included if there is an evidence-based link between an indicator and civic engagement (most commonly seen as voter turnout). The 12 indicators selected are described below.  The data have been standardized for graphical representation.

Individual and Community Health

Other Factors

Indicators and Data Sources


The Index helps illustrate the ways in which inclusive voting policies and public health outcomes are linked, but it is important to note that these links are correlational and that the findings do not prove a direct causal relationship between specific voting policies and specific health outcomes. While the correlational relationship is strong, more research is needed on the specific causal links between civic engagement and public health.

Further, this research is ongoing and can be expanded. The Index currently includes health indicators that were selected based on a review of research exploring the connection between these indicators and civic engagement. With more research, additional health indicators may be included in the future, including metrics related to other social and political determinants of health, such as housing and education.
Further, data for race and ethnicity are not currently included because of the variation in the ways these data are collected via different instruments and across states, including lack of standard categories across data sources. The research team is continuing to collect and analyze these data for inclusion in the future.

In addition, data from the BRFSS for 2019 do not include some data points for New Jersey, which did not meet the requirements for inclusion in the annual aggregate data set. Data for the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, which are not ranked in the Cost of Voting Index, are not currently included in this analysis.

Additional References and Resources

  1. Arah OA. (2008). Effect of voting abstention and life course socioeconomic position on self-reported health. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 62:759-760.
  2. Blakely TA, Kennedy BP, & Kawachi I. (2001). Socioeconomic inequality in voting participation and self-rated health. American Journal of Public Health. 91(1):99-104.
  3. Brians, CL & Grofman, B. (2002). Election Day Registration’s Effect on U.S. Voter Turnout. Social Science Quarterly. 82(Mar.): 170–183.
  4. Brown CL, Raza D, & Pinto AD. (2020). Voting, health and interventions in healthcare settings: a scoping review. Public Health Reviews. 41, 16.
  5. Burden BC, Fletcher JM, Herd P, Jones BM, & Moynihan DP. (2017). How Different Forms of Health Matter to Political Participation. The Journal of Politics. 79(1): 166-178
  6. Civic Engagement and Population Health Initiative. (2021). Compendium on Civic Engagement and Population Health. University of California, Riverside Center for Social Innovation, the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
  7. Dawes, DE & Williams, DR. (2020). The Political Determinants of Health. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  8. Dubowitz T, Nelson C, Weilant S, Sloan J, Bogart A, Miller C, & Chandra A. 2020. Factors related to health civic engagement: results from the 2018 National Survey of Health Attitudes to understand progress towards a Culture of Health. BMC Public Health. May 7, 2020; 20(1):635.
  9. Kim S, Kim CY, & You MS. (2015). Civic participation and self-rated health: a cross-national multi-level analysis using the world value survey. Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health. 48(1): 18–27.
  10. Lyon G. The Conditional Effects of Health on Voter Turnout. (2021). Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. 46(3): 409–433.
  11. Mattila M, Soderlund P, Wass H, & Rapeli L. Healthy voting: The effect of self-reported health on turnout in 30 countries (2013). Electoral Studies, 32(4): 886-89.
  12. Nelson C, Sloan J, & Chandra A. (2019). Examining Civic Engagement Links to Health. RAND Social and Economic Well-Being. (California: RAND Corporation: Santa Monica California).
  13. Rodriguez JM, Geronimus AT, Bound J, & Dorling D. (2015). Black lives matter: Differential mortality and the racial composition of the U.S. electorate, 1970–2004. Social Science & Medicine. Vol. 136-137: 193-199.
  14. Schraufnagel S, Pomante II MJ, & Li Q. (2020). Cost of Voting in the American States: 2020. Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy. 19(4): 503-509.
  15. Street A., Murray TA, Blitzer J., & Patel RS. (2017). Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data: Political Analysis. Political Analysis. 23:225–241
  16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Population health, Civic Participation. Healthy People 2020, Social Determinants of Health, Interventions and Resources. Site last updated June 23, 2021.