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Politics & Government

It's Not Easy, But Even Hospital Patients Can Vote Today

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

A small army of volunteers is helping voters in Allegheny County who unexpectedly find themselves in the hospital today.

Until the state legislature passed a law in 2006 creating emergency absentee ballots, there was no way for someone who missed the absentee deadline could vote if they could not get to the polling place. 

“When I signed up for this I thought we’ll just walk to their room with a ballot and they would fill it out and that would be it… But no, it’s an all-day process,” said Betsy Butler of Greenfield, a volunteer with the Election Protection Program. 

First, the voter fills out a form requesting the emergency absentee ballot, then a doctor signs it, confirming that individual is hospitalized and unable to make it to the polls. The ballot is then notarized and registered with the elections division, before being taken to a judge for a hearing. Organizer Paul O’Hanlon says there can be objections at the hearing.

“The major parties fly in out-of-town lawyers who get here and seem to see their job as to be objecting to everything and so they generally do,” said O’Hanlon, who stresses that it is a nonpartisan effort. “I’m doing the job making sure that everybody can vote and I could care less how they vote. I just care that they be able to vote.”

After getting the judge’s approval, it’s back to the elections division to verify the voter and to get the right ballot printed.

That ballot is driven back to patient for voting.  Finally, it's  taken back to the Elections Division office to be submitted.  It all has to be done by 8:00 p.m., when the polls close.

Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Election Protection Program volunteer Betsy Butler shows off the forms needed to start the process of helping a patient vote using an emergency absentee ballot. Butler was assigned to Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Among those voting with the help of the Election Protection Program was Victoria Winkeller, who was at Magee-Womens Hospital after having her first baby on Monday. 

“It wasn’t the first thing on my mind but I was worried about not being able to vote,” she said, while waiting for here paperwork to be returned to her.  “I had already asked several physicians and nurses here if there was a way I could get about an hour on pass to go do it and was told I probably would not be ready to leave.”

The project expects to be able to help more than 300 patients vote today.

“It’s been such a difficult tumultuous election, I felt this was just a really dignified way to help be part of the election process,” Butler said.

90.5 WESA is participating in Electionland, a ProPublica project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election.