Voting and emergency hospitalizations

November 13, 2012

Were you or someone you know unable to vote on Election Day because of an emergency hospitalization? Does this make you want to plan ahead and vote by absentee ballot or vote early and in person in case a medical emergency occurs on or near Election Day in the future?

Disability Rights Ohio, which operated a hotline on Election Day, received numerous calls from people who had been hospitalized recently and were unable to vote in person. It was wonderful to see that these people, despite their circumstances, were still passionate about exercising their right to vote. We communicated with each individual, staff at the hospital, and the county board of elections to resolve several cases and ensure that the individual was able to vote by absentee ballot.

Ohio law provides that a registered voter who wants to vote by absentee ballot in an election must request an absentee ballot no later than noon on the Saturday before Election Day. However, there is an exception for someone who is hospitalized (or whose child is hospitalized) on Election Day because of an accident or unforeseeable medical emergency occurring before Election Day and who is unable to travel to the voting booth on Election Day.

For these voters, a special form is available at the Ohio Secretary of State website [PDF], which can be submitted to the county board of elections up until 3 pm on Election Day. The hospitalized person can also ask a family member (not only immediate family, but extended family as well) to pick up the absentee ballot, deliver it to the voter at the hospital, and then personally return the completed ballot to the county board of elections. If the voter is hospitalized in the same county as his or her county of residence, and no family member is available, the county board of elections must send two employees to the hospital to deliver the absentee ballot and then return the completed ballot.

Unfortunately, the law in Ohio is flawed for people who are hospitalized outside their county of residence on Election Day. If such voter does not have a family member to help, then the county board of elections is merely obligated to mail the absentee ballot to the voter, which rarely provides enough time to complete the ballot and return it timely. In fact, Disability Rights Ohio had to file a federal lawsuit last week for a person who was hospitalized and unable to travel to her polling location hours away and never received her absentee ballot.

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