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Providers help patients who can't get to the polls cast their votes

From an informative interactive website to a "boots on the ground" approach in Philadelphia, providers want to make sure patients can vote.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Following a wave of frustration over the 2016 election and hospital patients being unable to exercise their right to vote because they couldn't get to the polls, clinicians took matters into their own hands and created a website called, for patients to find out how they can still cast their vote.

Patients go to the website, click on the link for the state where they are registered to vote, bringing them to a page with detailed direction on obtaining a ballot, application due dates and other information from the state's board of elections website.


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The project was spearheaded by Kelly Wong, an emergency medicine resident at the Brown Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, who told NBC News that through her research, she discovered that in most states, there is a process for submitting an emergency absentee ballot to local election officials, such that they can still take part in the Democratic process. In some cases a friend or family member is allowed to pick up the ballot and deliver it to the patient. In other states, the board of elections may send someone to the hospital.


The effort to make sure that hospital patients are still able to vote has spread beyond Wong's website. Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania are working on a program called the Penn Votes Project, according to the Philadelphia Tribune.

The state of Pennsylvania requires that the patient first apply for an emergency absentee ballot. Then a physician must sign off on the application verifying that the patient can't physically get to the polls. The application must then be notarized, taken to city hall and approved. The ballot is then taken back to the hospital, where the patient completes it, and then finally returns it to city hall to be counted.

The hospitals have created a program that handles all of this so patients and families, who are likely already stressed don't have to do the work. Law students shuttle the paperwork back and forth for them.
The hope is that the program will serve as a model for other health systems whose patients also want to make their voices heard at the polls, but can't actually get there.


"I didn't know patients could vote -- and what I'm learning is that many healthcare providers also don't know that there are processes in place to help patients vote," Wong told NBC News.

"Every citizen of the United States has the right to vote and we think getting ill shouldn't impair that process," said Dr. Judd Flesch, a pulmonary medicine specialist who heads up the program, told the Tribune.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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