On emergency hospital ballots

Published by Tim McNulty on .

UPDATE from the P-G's Liz Navratil:

Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Clark signed an order tonight extending until 10 p.m. the deadline to return emergency absentee ballots collected at hospitals and institutions in Allegheny County.

Chris Potter at Pittsburgh City Paper has a nice explainer via Disability Rights Network lawyer Paul O'Hanlon on how and why patients at local hospitals can file emergency absentee ballots (which were at issue in Allegheny County court today):

With that law in hand, O'Hanlon began finding volunteers to reach out to hospital patients, starting in 2008. At first, he recalls, "We really just floundered around, and weren't very effective. It was almost kind of funny. Magee-Women's Hospital turned out to be the most contentious: One volunteer went in and saw was a patient who'd been a former client. Word got around, until security escorted her off the premises. We called UPMC's general counsel, who let us back in, but then security came back and said someone else at UPMC said we had to leave." While a handful of women at Magee did eventually secure ballots, their votes didn't reach the elections office in time to count.

To prevent a repeat of that fiasco, O'Hanlon began building up a relationship with UPMC. This year, he says, he was able to reach out to 10 UPMC hospitals in Allegheny County. And although he'd previously used his own volunteers to reach out to patients, "This year, the hospitals said, 'Our volunteers would like to do this too, and they know the hospital.'"

So as long as they live in Allegheny County, UPMC patients can choose to vote at the same time they pick a flavor of Jell-O. "Either at lunch yesterday or their meal last night," O'Hanlon says, "a patient would get a note saying that volunteers would be available today to help you apply for a ballot, and call this number if you're interested. Each hospital has a designated agent, so that all the applications have one person who is doing the transaction with the clerk's office."

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