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Even while hospitalized, here’s how Illinois patients can vote

Many have been anticipating this election.

But what happens if you are hospitalized just before you planned to vote?

In this situation, voters have an option. In Illinois, patients hospitalized within the 14 days before an election can arrange to have a ballot delivered to the hospital.

At Advocate Health Care, hospitals have developed a process to facilitate this absentee voting. For the first time, staffers created an organized program to help patients know they can vote, including signs in hospitals and directly telling patients about this option.

Advocate Trinity Hospital on the South Side of Chicago is pictured on Aug. 12, 2020.

Advocate Trinity Hospital on the South Side of Chicago is pictured on Aug. 12, 2020. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

“Because of COVID and this pandemic, it’s causing unexpected hospitalizations, and it’s intersected with this election,” said Tiffany Gardley, manager of volunteer services, communications and transport at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

Under Illinois law, qualified voters who have been admitted to a hospital, nursing home or rehabilitation center can request personal delivery of a vote-by-mail ballot.

To get a ballot, they must complete an application stating why they were admitted and that they do not expect to be released before the election, or, if released, expect to be housebound. Along with this application, a doctor, advanced practice registered nurse or physician assistant must state that the patient was admitted and not expected to be released or, if released, not able to travel.

At Advocate, patients are offered a packet with the application to request to vote this way, and a phone number to a 24/7 staffed volunteer line. Volunteers guide them through a process that can be complicated.

Once voters complete the application, a legal relative or a person registered to vote in their same precinct must present this application to an election authority. In Cook County, the application must be delivered to the County Clerk’s Office at 69 W. Washington St.

In a signed affidavit, the ballot-delivery person attests to being a registered voter authorized to get the ballot and deliver it, and states the nature of the relationship with the hospitalized voter.

After it’s verified that the hospitalized person is registered to vote, the ballot-delivery person can take a vote-by-mail ballot to the hospital, where the patient can fill it out and the same ballot-delivery person can return it to be counted.

So far, Gardley says, the hospital hasn’t had patients request a ballot; many patients expect to be out of the hospital by Tuesday. But when circumstances change and they end up staying, or realize they may be unable to leave home after they are discharged, she anticipates more interest.

“This election is huge,” Gardley said. “We feel there’s going to be a huge need on Monday and Tuesday.”

At Rush, a medical student suggested helping with similar outreach after two people asked about how their family members could vote.

Depending on what hospital practice is on giving patients this information, patients around the state might not know about their ability to vote while hospital-bound.

Special protocols exist for COVID-19 patients at Advocate; staff members sanitize the pens before and after use, and they seal the patient’s ballot in a bag before giving it to the person who will deliver it.

Gardley said she sees this as part of taking care of patients and helping them get whatever they might need.

“It’s definitely a holistic approach,” she said.

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