The Right and Responsibility to Vote

Kentucky Nurses: The Right and Responsibility to Vote

Dixon, Laura

August 26, 2004 came and went for many nurses, the significance of the day remained lost among the bells and whistles in the ICU or in the medication room crowded with nurses gathering medications for yet another trip down a long, busy, hospital hallway. On Women’s Equality Day, that eighty-fourth anniversary of women winning a long fought battle for the right to vote, many nurses, both women and men, went to work as they always do-reliable, responsible employees of hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Their goal on that day, as on many others, was to care for patients, families, and each other.

No matter what nurses’ political affiliations or religious beliefs, on professional and personal levels there are more issues that have the potential to unite nurses than the number of issues that, in actuality, divide them. Very few nurses would argue that they want higher nurse to patient staffing ratios. More likely than not, the majority of nurses wouldn’t turn their noses up to solid retirement benefits and affordable, adequate healthcare benefits. Nurses want their families and children safe from harm, and they want those same children to have access to quality education augmented by appropriate supplies, books, computers and social and cultural experiences. When it comes down to it, nurses want to have job security without the fear of having nursing jobs reclassified and overtime benefits lost. They do not want to live in fear of mandatory overtime one week while worrying they may be sent home without pay the next. They want a voice in those regulations that affect patient care, and they want to be heard on the issues when they exert the authority that can only come from standing at the bedside giving direct, hands on patient care.

What do nurses, many of whom are women, do with the right to vote? It’s hard to say. On Election Day, those same nurses who could make such a large impact by letting their voices be heard at the polls see their children off to school and then set off to work. At the end of the day, they go home to parent their children and to meet one of many other obligations. Although it’s very easy to drive past the polls and say “my voice doesn’t count” or “it’s just one vote,” surely nurses and women in particular, aren’t content to revert to pre-1920 America and allow others to make decisions for them, especially when those decisions concern the people and principles they hold most dear. Without a doubt, it is important for each individual nurse to take the extra steps, make one more round, and go to the polls and vote on Election Day. It’s vitally important that each nurse vote in order to make sure that when individual nurses speak, all nurses are heard.

According to the latest data available from the Kentucky Board of Nursing, there are currently 49,066 registered nurses, 1860 licensed practical nurses, and 2733 nurse practitioners in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. That’s a relatively large group who, if speaking collectively about those issues they hold in common, could make a bona fide difference in a local, state or national election. Numbers talk and any candidate or party who dismisses over 50,000 voters at the state level or more than 2.2 million voters in a national election could certainly risk paying a price.

Because the stakes are high in this and every election, The League of Women Voters of Louisville and the Kentucky Nurses’ Association have joined together to encourage hospitals and other healthcare facilities to partner with nurses in Kentucky. The League of Women Voters of Louisville and the KNA are asking healthcare facilities to educate nurses about their voting rights and to make sure that each nurse who wants to vote is allowed to do so. In early September, letters were sent to all hospitals in Louisville Metro. The letter reminds hospital management of the KRS Statute 118.035 which requires employers to give employees time off to vote. The mailing also provides information facilities can use to educate employees about the voting process and important dates related to voting in Kentucky.

Registered voters who work outside of their county of residence may vote by absentee ballot. Those who live and work in the same county, even though they may be working the entire day of the election are not entitled to vote via absentee ballot. However, KRS 118.035 allows any employee up to four hours off to vote if that employee makes a request for time off before the date of the election. This law is in place for one simple reason. All Americans, including nurses who work 12 hour shifts, have the right to vote.

For more information about your right to vote, visit the KNA website at www. kentuckynurses. org. Here you will find a copy of the letter sent to the healthcare .

facilities and a Time Off to Vote Request Form. Additional information may also be found by visiting the Kentucky Board of Elections at www.kyelect.com or the KRS statute online at www.lrc.state.ky.us/KRS/118-00/035.PDF.

We at the KNA and The League of Women Voters are encouraged by the spirited debate and the energy surrounding this year’s local, state, and national elections. We are optimistic that by making nurses acutely aware of their voting rights, that more votes will be cast and more nursing voices heard.

Date to Remember

* October 4, 2004: Last day to Register to Vote

* October 15: Begin absentee voting in county clerk’s office (date varies by county)

* October 26, 2004: Deadline for applying for a paper absentee ballot

* November 1, 2004: Last Day to Request time off to Vote from an employer

* November 2, 2004: Election Day, Polls open 6am-6pm

Laura Dixon, RN

Laura Dixon is a Director of the League of Women Voters of Louisville and a registered nurse.

Copyright Kentucky Nurses Association Oct-Dec 2004

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