As early voting rates in Buncombe County continue to outpace the rest of the state, Western North Carolina Community Health Services (WNCCHS) and the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) have launched a new non-partisan effort to Get Out the Vote (GOTV) among county residents. During the early voting period which ends November 5, the organizations will be running free shuttles from the Minnie Jones Health Center (257 Biltmore Avenue in Asheville) to the early voting site at the Dr. Wesley Grant Southside Center for patients and WNCCHS staff.

The shuttle runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday until November 4. Patients at the health center can sign up for a ride after their appointment, or just walk in to ask for a ride. This turnout effort follows a voter registration drive at WNCCHS which resulted in over 500 patients registering to vote this year.

“We had tremendous support from volunteers who have been registering voters at WNCCHS since August. The natural followup to registering so many voters is to make it easy for them to get to the polls for early voting,” said Scott Parker, Director of Development and Collaboration at WNCCHS. “Many of our patients work multiple jobs, have transportation issues, or are disengaged from the political process. Community Health Centers have a history of empowering patients and addressing issues around social justice, including voter registration and engagement. We see it as a natural complement to accessing affordable health care,” Parker continued.

WNCCHS is a federally-qualified community health center providing primary health care to about 16,000 patients annually. Ninety-five percent of patients at WNCCHS are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, with a high number of those having no insurance at all. WNCCHS runs the only Transgender Health Program in the region and has been providing primary care to LGBTQ people since its founding. WNCCHS also employs around 200 staff at the Minnie Jones Health Center, and the shuttle makes it very convenient for them to vote as well.

WNCCHS and CSE have previously worked together to promote WNCCHS’ Transgender Health Program, a groundbreaking model of delivering culturally-competent integrated medical care to transgender individuals across Western North Carolina. CSE donated $10,000 to help fund WNCCHS Transgender Health Program, which was launched in 2007 and currently provides health care services to more than 200 transgender individuals. This support enabled the Transgender Health Program to grow its primary care services for individuals in Western North Carolina, and continue the high quality integrated services that are currently provided.

“LGBTQ individuals are underrepresented at every level of politics in North Carolina and across the South – and that’s one factor that makes it possible for a law like HB2 to pass. Changing that starts in the voting booth where our community can make its voice heard.  WNCCHS is breaking down barriers to voting and that’s especially important for communities on the margins,” says Ivy Hill, CSE’s LGBTQ Rights Toolkit Coordinator.

CSE’s grant to support WNCCHS’ turnout project is part of its #QueerTheVote initiative, which provides microgrants for efforts to register and turn out LGBTQ voters across the South. “With so much at stake this election cycle, we wanted to step up and do more. From the Mississippi Delta to Birmingham, Alabama, we’re proud to be supporting efforts to make sure our community is highly engaged in this election cycle,” adds Hill.

Based in Asheville, CSE works across the South to promote full LGBTQ legal and lived equality. CSE’s work includes advocating for legal equality, supporting direct service providers and grassroots organizers with funding and training, and maintaining an online LGBTQ Rights Toolkit, which helps LGBTQ Southerners access resources and protect their rights.