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Stuck in a hospital bed with a bad back, Dotti Loftus figured she would have to sit out Election Day. Literally.
That changed Monday when a Methodist Hospital volunteer strode into Room 418, where Loftus lay, bearing a clipboard, a ballot application and good news.
Loftus raised a happy fist into the air.
“Yay!” she said. “I get to vote!”
That's the kind of enthusiasm other patients displayed as volunteers fanned out across Methodist and Methodist Women's Hospitals on Monday, asking if anyone wanted to vote. There were two caveats: patients had to already be registered voters, and they had to be Douglas County residents.
The latter is because Douglas County, unlike Sarpy, has a special program that aims to help the hospitalized cast their ballots. This is separate from a nursing home voting program that both counties and others in the state have.
Patients who are registered to vote also can have someone acting on their behalf visit the county election commissioner's office to request a ballot for that person. The ballot must be returned to the election office or drop-box locations by 8 p.m. today.
The state election office praised Douglas County's hospital get-out-the-vote efforts.
“It's nice they provide that convenience,” said Laura Strimple, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Secretary of State's Office.
Here's how it works in Douglas County: Participating hospitals send volunteers to patients' rooms the day before the election to ask if they are registered, live in the county and want to vote. Those who do are invited to fill out an early voting ballot application. Applications are faxed to the Douglas County election commissioner. Ballots are available at the hospitals on Election Day, and those who signed up get to vote.
Participating hospitals include those run by Alegent Creighton Health, the Nebraska Medical Center and Methodist.
The program was welcome news to several Methodist patients, including Linette Nelson, 52, of Waterloo.
Nelson, hospitalized for 35 days with pancreatitis, wanted to vote but thought she wouldn't be able to. Nelson filled out the application Monday as her mother rubbed a soothing eucalyptus- and spearmint-scented lotion on her feet and legs.
“I can't leave the hospital,” Nelson told the volunteer, retiree Gwen Laughlin. “Thank you. You made my day.”
Even patients who couldn't take advantage of the program because they live in other counties or had voted early — and many had — greeted the sprightly, cheery Laughlin with gratitude and surprise.
“I'm 86. I voted every (time) since I was eligible,” said Phyllis Samson of Omaha, who had voted early and was at Methodist recovering from a leg wound.
Quipped Cora Christensen of Papillion, who has dealt with heart disease for half her life, “The brain works ... most of the time.”
Laughlin is a faithful Methodist volunteer. She bowls twice a week, golfs regularly and seems a lot younger than her 84 years.
Monday, she wore a red jacket over a white shirt with black pants and sneakers. Laughlin was cheerful, brisk and conscientious enough to skip rooms with closed doors and “no visitor” signs.
“She's asleep,” Laughlin whispered outside Room 624.
Laughlin covered three hospital floors in about 90 minutes, encountering a range of people with a range of problems.
There was Robert Watson, 87, a World War II veteran and retired manufacturing representative who figured the world wouldn't end without his ballot. But he was glad to sign up for one, and when told hours later that he was being transferred from Methodist, he had his son call to find out what to do.
“My dad really wants to vote,” Larry Watson said.
There was Amy Collins, 40, hospitalized 10 days ago because of the pain caused by her ovarian cancer. “I had no idea it would be this long,” said Collins, who gets to vote today because of the program.
There was Lisa Pearson, 52, who is back in the hospital for the third time in a month after complications from surgery.
“My whole month has been a blur,” said Pearson, who works with preschoolers in the Ralston Public Schools. She figured she wouldn't get to vote.
“Now I do,” she said happily.
An exuberant Dotti Loftus grew serious as she considered her right to vote. Hospitalized since Saturday with pain that started in her back, she had spent the weekend considering whether she would get to vote.
“That's why our guys come over there (to war) to die, so we can get to vote,” she said. “It's very important.”
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