Making Every Vote Count

Leading up to Election Day, Sidney Kimmel Medical College students spearhead JeffVotes initiative.
Two medical students- one holding a voting clipboard, the other a folder.
Students Alisha Maity and Adam Cohen-Nowak helped to collect over 100 ballots last year.

Many Pennsylvania residents plan to vote in person at their local precincts or complete their absentee ballots ahead of time. However, some may find themselves hospitalized on or before Election Day due to an unexpected trip to the ER, early labor or a host of other reasons.

That’s exactly why a team of Sidney Kimmel Medical College students created JeffVotes in 2018 to obtain emergency absentee ballots for patients (and their family members) who can’t make it to the polls. Last year, we collected over 100 ballots and submitted them to county clerk’s offices across Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties.

Now, leading up to this Election Day, we start the process again. Patients at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Jefferson Hospital for Neurosciences deemed by a physician to require inpatient services on Election Day will be eligible to complete a ballot in their hospital room. This requires a coordinated effort among physicians, nurses, students, notaries, City Hall staff and local judges.

Disability, surgery, pregnancy or illness never should be a barrier to exercising the right to vote.

How does this process work?

1. From Oct. 29 to Nov. 5, patients and loved ones registered to vote in Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties who can’t leave the hospital by Election Day 2019 will need to complete emergency absentee ballot application forms with physician and volunteer signatures and a notary stamp. The 40-plus members of the JeffVotes team will go from floor to floor, room to room to inquire about patient voting status.

2. Agents will bring the completed forms to City Hall during business hours, and volunteers will take back the official ballots to the hospital.

3. Patients and family members will complete and seal their ballots for the agents to return to City Hall.

4. On Nov. 4 to 5, agents will appear in front of judges of the Court of Common Pleas to present applications for emergency absentee ballots, sometimes taking questions from lawyers representing political parties. A voter will be granted an emergency ballot as long as documents are completed properly.

Members of the JeffVotes committee stand outside holding signs
JeffVotes committee members include Alisha Maity, Kevin Su, Julia Dewey, Adam Cohen-Nowak, Yael Horvath and Kathryn Linder.

Disability, surgery, pregnancy or illness never should be a barrier to exercising the right to vote, and this initiative shows one of the many ways that Jefferson puts patients first. Here are some of the positive comments we received last year from volunteers:

  • “I had a patient in her 80s who hadn’t missed an election in her voting life. She was moved to tears by the fact that she could vote in this midterm.”
  • “The young couple expecting their first baby were so happy that her early labor wouldn’t prevent her from voting and that he wouldn’t have to leave the hospital to vote himself.”
  • “Family members of a patient were grateful they were able to vote and didn’t have to rush home to the polls after their loved one had surgery. It gave me goosebumps when they said what a blessing this was.”

Interested in volunteering? Notaries public and Jefferson staff members and students specializing in health care or medicine can email us here. The first volunteer meeting will be Oct. 28.

Alisha Maity and Adam Cohen-Nowak are Sidney Kimmel Medical College students and JeffVotes volunteers.

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Health, Life at Jefferson