As Election Day approaches, a student-led nonprofit is connecting hospitalized patients to the ballot box

PROVIDENCE, RI [Brown University] — To boost voter turnout among Rhode Islanders who find themselves unexpectedly hospitalized on Election Day, a team of Brown students is going to Providence-area hospitals and clinics to help patients learn how to vote without leaving the hospital.

A group of five Brown students serves as the team behind Patient Vote, a student-led, nonpartisan organization that advocates for patient voting rights by raising awareness and access to voting information.

Kelly Wong, who completed her residency in emergency medicine at Warren Alpert Brown Medical School, founded the organization after the 2016 presidential election. Both as a medical student and in residency, Wong encountered patients who refused medical care because being in the hospital would prevent them from voting on Election Day.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 130 million patients visit emergency rooms in the country each year, and 12 percent of those visits end in hospitalization. Wong and her co-founders created Patient Vote to raise awareness that a sudden hospital stay doesn’t mean registered voters can’t vote. Saba Paracha — a current Brown student and member of the Patient Vote executive board — said that in the event of a medical emergency, voters can request an emergency absentee ballot, a little-known but important last-minute voting process.

“Emergency absentee voting is available in most states, but not many people have heard of it,” Paracha said. “Most people are familiar with regular absentee ballots for people who know in advance they won’t make it on Election Day, including military personnel and college students. But if someone could be unexpectedly hospitalized, they most likely did not organize a traditional absentee ballot. That’s where emergency ballots come in.”

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