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.”