Disenfranchisement undeniably remains a major problem across the United States. While it is challenging for health care providers to find time to vote, hospitalized patients are an underrecognized vulnerable group, often unable to exercise this constitutional right. With the 2020 election approaching, voting is as important as ever.
On morning rounds after the 2018 election, we discussed the impact of a changing majority in the House of Representatives and its potential impact on health care in America. We discussed where, when, and how we voted, and then suddenly considered a question that we were unable to answer: How do our hospitalized patients vote and did any of them vote in this important election?
Inpatients rarely know when or how long they will be hospitalized. They often have no chance to prepare by paying bills, arranging care for loved ones, or finding coverage for employment responsibilities. The sickest patients can do little more than wonder about anything other than their short-term health. As a result of restricted voting laws, they, like too many others, are effectively disenfranchised.
We asked administrators in multiple hospitals across New York City how to help our patients vote. Unfortunately, the process is overwhelmingly complex and varies by state. Absentee ballots, which are easily accessible in New York if it they are requested no later than 7 days before the election, are harder to come by on the same day. Most people struggle to vote in general – with only 61% voting in the 2016 election.1 To combat this, individual hospitals have created initiatives such as Penn Votes, which has helped 65 hospitalized Pennsylvania residents vote in the last three elections2 – a success, but still leaving so many without a voice.
With health care being a major policy issue for the 2020 election, voting has never been more important for patients. With nearly 1 million hospital beds in America,3 hospitalized patients represent a significant number of potential voters who are functionally disenfranchised. Most importantly, these patients are directly under our care, and we are their strongest advocates. Therefore, we ask our fellow health care providers to start planning today how we will help our patients exercise their voices, participate in our health care policy debate, and choose the future leaders of our country.
Dr. Rosenblatt is assistant professor of medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York. Dr. Verna is assistant professor of medicine, Department of Surgery, at Columbia University Irving Medical School, New York. Dr. Rosenblatt and Dr. Verna reported having no relevant conflicts of interest.
1. File T. Voting in America: A Look at the 2016 Presidential Election [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2020 Jan 7];Available from:.
2. Vigodner S. Penn students are helping hospitalized patients cast emergency ballots for Tuesday’s election [Internet]. Dly. Pennsylvanian. 2018;Available from:
3. Association AH. Fast facts on US hospitals [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2020 Jan 7];Available from:.