Can You Cast Your Vote If Hospitalized On Election Day?
With the presidential election less than two weeks away, COVID-19 infection rates are increasing across Northeast Ohio and hospitalizations are going up.
Infectious disease doctors predict this will continue as the weather gets colder.
So what if you wait until November 3 to vote, but end up in the hospital, for COVID-19 or any other reason on that day?
If you’re a patient in the hospital on Election Day, for COVID-19 or any other reason, Ohio law allows you to request an emergency absentee ballot up until 3 p.m. that day, said Mike West, spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
Hospitalized voters can have a family member drop off the ballot at their county Boards of Elections before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.
If a family member isn’t available, two board of elections employees, each belonging to a different major political party, can pick up ballots from voters in hospitals, West said.
“It’s not uncommon to have people that are hospitalized, and if the hospitalization is a bit of a surprise, we do everything we can to accommodate them,” he said. “As long as we’re contacted in advance, we can actually get out there. We’ve had people that were in hospice, and we’ve been able to go with a politically balanced team and get out and vote them.”
But in this pandemic year, MetroHealth was concerned about more people than necessary going to the hospital and potentially spreading coronavirus. So, they came up with a different system, with the help of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.
Instead of elections staff coming into the hospital, hospital staff will assist patients in voting.
“We have over 25 volunteers already offering to perform this support to our patients, which is really exciting,” said Seona Goerndt, patient experience director.
The staff volunteers still have to be approved by the elections board, and they will still handle the ballots in bipartisan teams, as required by Ohio law.
“Our staff already know the precautions of going into patient rooms, so it makes it that much safer for them to be able to access our patients and provide support to them, than it would be for anybody else to come in and do that, during this particular time,” Goerndt said.
University Hospitals will also follow Ohio's law to ensure patients can vote from their hospital beds, and connect registered voters with the board of elections to cast their ballots, hospital officials said.
But what about people who are sick but not hospitalized?
Those with COVID symptoms might be forced to quarantine, but if they aren’t in the hospital, they might not be able to vote, said Mike West of the Board of Elections.
“All we can do is ask people to submit a vote-by-mail ballot application, and that can serve as their insurance policy,” West said. “That way, there’s no human contact involved, and if they don’t want to mail it in, they can give it to a family member who could drop the ballot off here at the board of elections.”
The easiest way to make sure you are able to have your vote counted is to request a vote-by-mail ballot, he said.
“Then you don’t have to worry about what might happen, or of you might become hospitalized,” he said. “You’ll have your ballot there, and that will make sure you leave the voting option open, no matter what could happen.”
Ohio has more flexibility than some other states when it comes to requesting vote-by-mail ballot applications. Anyone in the state can request a mail-in ballot for any reason, and this year, Ohio election officials mailed absentee ballot applications to voters.
But some other states, like Indiana, require specific reasons like disability or age in order to request a mail-in ballot.
Some advocate organizations like the non-partisan Patient Voting attempt to increase voter turnout among registered voters who are hospitalized prior to Election Day.
According to the website, some states have made changes to their absentee ballot process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including expanding absentee ballots to allow COVID-19 as a condition, extending deadlines for the receipt of absentee ballots, and relaxing and removing requirements for a notary to verify signatures.
Ohio does not have a notary requirement.