This group of Pittsburghers is ready to help people in the hospital vote

Hospital visits can be unexpected, but this group is helping patients cast their ballots.

David P. Fulmer / flickr
MJ Slaby

No one can predict a heart attack, a baby that arrives early or even complications from surgery a few days earlier.

And if one of those — or something else unexpected — lands people in the hospital on Election Day, a group of Pittsburghers are making sure hospital patients can still cast their votes.

They “didn’t expect to vote, so you’re their hero for the day,” said Alisa Grishman, 34, of Shadyside. “Who doesn’t want to be a hero?”

Grishman is the second-in-command organizer for Ballots for Patients, an initiative started nearly 10 years ago by local lawyer Paul O’Hanion, also a member of the City-County Task Force on Disabilities.

Volunteers will go to eight UPMC hospitals across Allegheny County to help patients cast their ballots.

It all started either yesterday or early today, when patients received information asking them if they wanted to vote. Those who opt in are visited by volunteers who help them fill out emergency absentee applications, Grishman said.

After that, the volunteers take the applications Downtown for hearings before a judge before individualized ballots are made for each person with their name and room number on the envelope.

Then it’s back to the hospitals for the patients to vote.

“It’s a lot of going back and forth,” Grishman said, adding that she’s excited to be able to help people.

The effort was started by people with disabilities and is run by people with disabilities.

“Usually, we are portrayed as helpless, but this time we are helping people who are less fortunate than us,” said Grishman, who has multiple sclerosis.

Plus, she said, this is a positive way to spread awareness about disabilities and hospitals without making people uncomfortable.

“So much good that can come from this,” she said adding that she hopes the initiative also sets an example that there is a need for absentee voting laws to change to make it easier in Pennsylvania.

Grishman said it’s her first year helping with Ballots for Patients, and she went to the Hillary Clinton rally on Friday at Heinz Field to spread the word. Reaction from attendees was positive, but it was what happened after the Clinton supporters went inside that stuck with her.

Ballots for Patients is non-partisan, so Grishman went up to the group of Donald Trump supporters there to tell them the program was looking for volunteers.

One woman asked why she should help since the ballots would all be rigged for the Democrats anyway. Grishman said she responded: “If we were going to do that, I wouldn’t be here asking you to volunteer.”

Grisham, a self-proclaimed liberal, said she was really pleased by the conversation that followed. She said even though they disagree on candidates, voting is important and she would fight for their right to vote. And that goes back to the whole idea, Grishman said.

That’s part of what Ballots for Patients is, fighting for [patients’] right to vote,” she said.