Ask a Reporter is an occasional series about civic engagement in and around the city. Do you have a question about how you can make a difference in your neighborhood, city or state? What about voting, the elections or navigating civic life in New York? Ask us! We want to help you get involved by answering your questions.

Q: How can I help hospitalized patients vote?

A: It’s possible for patients to vote but it takes some advanced planning.

In most cases, you have to apply for an absentee ballot no later than a week before an election, but if someone is hospitalized, they can apply for one all the way up to the day before an election.

The form to request an absentee ballot is on the New York State Board of Elections website. Print it out and take it to the patient. They’ll check either “Temporary Illness” or “Permanent Illness” and in section six they’ll designate you, a family member or trusted friend (anybody they trust can serve as their “proxy”) to pick up their ballot at the Board of Elections office in their borough.

Here’s the really important part—in addition to the form, they need to write a letter authorizing you to be their “proxy.”

You, their proxy, must take the signed form and the letter to the Board of Elections office in their borough. The Board of Elections office will give you their absentee ballot to take back to them. After they cast their vote, you can return the ballot by mail as long as it’s postmarked before Election Day. You can also deliver their ballot, along with the original form and letter of authorization, to the board of elections office in their borough by 9 p.m. on Election Day.

But here’s the bad news: the Board of Elections says there’s no way to get an absentee ballot, not even an emergency one, on Election Day. So if your family member or friend unexpectedly winds up in the ER on Election Day, they won't be able to participate in the democratic process.

New York has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation. In the 2017 election cycle, just 21.5 percent of voting-aged New Yorkers actually cast a ballot, according to the NYC Campaign Finance Board. This isn’t just due to cynicism or laziness or apathy—New York does not make it easy for people to vote. But if you know somebody who’ll be in the hospital on Election Day you can make sure their vote counts.

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