Reaching the ballot box from a hospital bed

UCLA Health helps hospitalized patients vote in the November election.

If you’re in the hospital being treated for a health condition, the whereabouts of your absentee ballot is probably not top of mind.

But registered voters who find themselves admitted at UCLA medical centers in Santa Monica or Westwood come Election Day, can still cast their ballots thanks to swift and coordinated efforts from the Volunteer Services team.

“A lot of times, last-minute situations occur and people don’t realize they’re going to be in the hospital,” says Volunteer Services Director Carey McCarthy. “So they may find themselves in a situation where they haven’t turned in their ballot and still wish to vote.”

Though all registered voters in California automatically received absentee ballots for the November 2020 election, pandemic-related visitor restrictions at UCLA hospitals may have prevented patients from getting their ballots in hand before Election Day.

That’s where the Volunteer Services team comes in.

How it works

McCarthy’s team of 10 staffers will be rounding the floors Nov. 2, finding out which patients have yet to cast their votes. But they have to work quickly to get replacement ballot requests to the county registrar by close of business Monday.

“We split up the units,” she says. “The team members round their assigned areas and then we all meet back at a certain time to make sure everything is done on time.”

Hospitalized patients who want to vote must already be registered in Los Angeles County (for now, the service is not available for patients registered elsewhere). Once they complete an application for an emergency absentee ballot, McCarthy submits their applications to the registrar.

She then returns promptly at 7 a.m. on Election Day to retrieve the newly issued ballots.

“It’s a bit frantic, as elections always are,” she says. “Because we are on a strict deadline and we have to ensure that each patient has the opportunity to vote.”

McCarthy and her colleagues will dress in red, white and blue and don patriotic beaded necklaces Nov. 3 as they deliver the requested ballots.

“We try and make it a fun day,” McCarthy says. “For some of the patients, they’ve always voted and it’s very meaningful to them. They don’t want to miss a chance to participate in an election. It’s nice that just because they’re hospitalized doesn’t mean they can’t vote.”

In the past, some have even affixed the classic “I voted” sticker to their hospital gown.

Staff members won’t be able to include patients in isolation units and those with COVID-19 in this year’s voting opportunity due to the risk of transmitting the virus to other hospitalized patients.

Once the Volunteer Services team collects the completed ballots floor by floor, McCarthy personally hand-deposits them into the ballot drop box on the UCLA campus.

“We’re excited and happy that we can bring this into the hospital,” she says. “We enjoy doing it and the patients are very happy.

“Even though they don’t feel well, they want to make sure their vote is counted.”

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