Date November 3, 2022
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As Election Day nears, student-led nonprofit connects hospitalized patients to the ballot box

By increasing awareness and access to last-minute emergency ballots, the non-partisan organization Patient Voting makes it possible for unexpectedly hospitalized patients to vote.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — To increase voter turnout among Rhode Islanders who find themselves unexpectedly hospitalized in the days leading up to Election Day, a team of Brown students is taking to Providence-area hospitals and clinics to help patients learn how to vote without ever leaving the hospital.

The group of five Brown undergraduates serves as the team behind Patient Voting, a student-led non-partisan organization that advocates for patient voting rights by increasing awareness and access to voting information.

Kelly Wong, who completed her emergency medicine residency at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, founded the organization following the 2016 presidential election. Both as a medical student and during her residency, Wong came across patients who would forgo medical care because a hospital stay would prevent their ability to vote on Election Day. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 130 million patients visit emergency rooms in the country annually, and 12 percent of those visits result in hospital admission. Wong and her co-founders created Patient Voting to drive awareness that a sudden hospital stay doesn’t mean registered voters can’t cast a ballot. Saba Paracha — a current Brown undergraduate and a member of Patient Voting’s executive board — said that in a medical emergency, voters can request an emergency absentee ballot, a little-known but important last-minute voting process. 

“An emergency absentee ballot is available in most states, but few people have heard of it,” Paracha said. “Most are familiar with regular absentee ballots, for people who know ahead of time that they will not make it on Election Day, including military members or college students. But when someone might be unexpectedly hospitalized, they likely did not make arrangements to vote by the traditional absentee ballot. That’s where the emergency ballots come in.”

Rhode Island’s Department of State allows voters to apply for an emergency ballot until 4 p.m. on the day before an election. This month, with midterm elections approaching on Nov. 8, Paracha and other volunteers are working to help local hospital patients request, cast and submit emergency ballots. On site in hospitals and clinics, Brown students are handing out printed emergency voting applications, distributing flyers to medical professionals and running a social media campaign with step-by-step instructions for emergency voting. 

But the work led by students to inform patients in Providence hospitals of their voting options doesn’t stop at the Ocean State’s borders. The organization’s website,, serves as the first national repository of emergency voting procedures and state-specific voting instructions for all 50 states. Patients, family members and health care workers across the country can access information about voting deadlines and ways to submit emergency voting applications, as well as printable flyers and social media posts to generate additional awareness about emergency absentee voting. 

In addition to hospitalized patients, the emergency voting process can apply to caretakers and family members of patients who may also be unable to travel to the polls on Election Day, said Brown undergraduate Nicole Burns, a co-director for Patient Voting.

“It could be partners of patients giving birth or parents of children who are hospitalized,” Burns said. “There are varying laws between states, but a good amount allow the emergency voting process to be utilized in that way.”

Paracha and Burns are both enrolled in Brown’s eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education, through which students earn a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree. They see their advocacy as critical to shaping the impact on underrepresented populations, who are disproportionately affected by health care disparities. 

“Patients’ wellness is influenced by a myriad of environmental and socioeconomic factors outside of medical care,” Burns said. “We believe that safeguarding their ability to reshape these factors through the ballot box — especially amidst a pandemic that has already posed challenges to voting systems nationwide — functions as another way to serve their health.”