No one likes going to the hospital. For civic the minded, it's even more of a pain on election day.
Happily, a little-known provision in Texas voting law permits those admitted to a hospital within five days of an election to cast a vote – with a little help from their friends. That provision affects more than 100,000 people each election.
By statute, friends, family, or medical staff can serve as the voters' representative. The only people barred from acting on behalf of a hospitalized voter are employers or union officials.
Section 102 of the state's election code allows those admitted to the hospital on the Friday prior to the Tuesday election, or after, to obtain an absentee ballot, and have it hand-delivered by a representative to an early-voting clerk.
The hospitalized voter must have a proxy hand-carry an application for an absentee ballot, along with a doctor's note verifying the hospitalization, to the elections office. The representative then brings an absentee ballot to the voter, who fills it out and seals it in an official envelope, before the ballot is returned the early-voting clerk.
A Texas Health and Human Services study shows that more than 120,000 patients visit emergency rooms statewide in a five-day period.
Dee Wilcher, of the Anderson County Elections Office, said that, in five years of election work, she has never processed a vote from a hospitalized voter. In fact, she's never heard of the law permitting voters to do it.
“It doesn't happen very often, so it's not well known,” Keith Ingram of the state's Attorney General's Office told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “It's more likely that larger city hospitals would know more about it than those in more rural areas.”
Palestine Regional Medical Center CEO Roy Finch declined to comment.
Prisoners in county jails, unlike prison inmates, also retain the right to vote. Anderson County jail inmates must request a standard, mail-in absentee ballot.
“It's up to the prisoner to request the ballot,” ACSO Capt. Ginger Lively told the Herald-Press. “The government does not take on that responsibility [for them].”
Other jails, however, such as Harris County Jail, or Cook County Jail in Illinois have taken extra steps, and even made their facilities early-polling stations to facilitate prisoner voting.
Wilcher said she has often seen absentee ballots from the Anderson County Jail.
Federal law protects those needing to cast their ballot from hospitals. Anyone who tries to stop a voter, or stop someone from assisting a voter in casting a ballot, violates federal law.
For more information, call the voter's hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).