Johnathon Talamantes, of South-Central Los Angeles, broke his hip in a car accident on Oct. 22 and underwent surgery five days later at a public hospital near downtown.
His post-op recovery will keep him in the hospital, L.A. County+USC Medical Center, beyond Election Day, and as he prepared himself for the surgery, he wondered what that would mean.
“One of the first things I asked my nurse this morning was, ‘Oh, how am I going to vote?'” Talamantes, 30, said from his hospital bed the day before the operation.
He initially thought of asking his mom to rummage through a pile of papers at the home he shares with her and bring him the mail-in ballot that he, like all registered California voters, received for this election.
But then staffers at LAC+USC told him about another option: They could help him get an emergency ballot and cast his vote without having to get out of bed. So Talamantes told his mom not to bother.
“I don’t want her coming down here, because of the COVID restrictions,” he said.
California law protects the rights of voters who are in the hospital or other care facilities, or confined at home. It allows them to get help from anyone they choose — other than an employer or a union representative — and to cast an emergency ballot.
In some states, only family members can assist hospitalized patients with voting from the hospital.
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In California, New York and several other states, hospital employees and volunteers can help a patient complete an emergency ballot application. They can pick up the ballot for the patient and deliver the finished ballot back to the election office or deposit it in an official drop box.
In 18 states, the law allows local election boards to send representatives directly to patients’ bedsides, though six of those states have canceled that service this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Kelly Wong, founder of Patient Voting, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing turnout among registered voters unexpectedly hospitalized around election time.
The group’s website features an interactive map of the United States with state-by-state information on voting while in the hospital. It also allows patients to check whether they are registered to vote.
Wong, an emergency room resident at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, recalled that when she was a medical student working in an ER, patients who were about to be admitted to the hospital would tell her, “‘I can’t be admitted; I have let the dogs out, or I’m the sole caretaker of my grandmother.'” Then during the election of 2016, she heard, “‘I can’t stay. I have to go vote.'”
“That really caught my attention,” Wong said. She did research and learned patients could vote in the hospital using an emergency ballot — something none of her co-workers knew. “Our patients don’t know this, she said. “It should be our job to tell them.”
Some U.S. hospitals have been