The Health Sciences Campus is playing a special role in the 2020 general election as a vote center for the surrounding community.

The five-day vote center will be located on the first floor of the Soto 1 building at 2001 N. Soto St., at the site of the former Seeds Marketplace. This is the first time the Health Sciences Campus has served as a vote center, and is a joint effort by Keck Medicine of USC and the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The health system’s participation in the election came about very quickly within just the last few weeks. Annette Gibson, director of ambulatory care for women’s health at Keck Medicine, has been active in voters’ rights for years and has worked alongside the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office. On Sept. 23, she was contacted by the county with an urgent request. Another polling place was needed in ZIP code 90033; could Keck Medicine, located within that area, fill the gap?

“I was very excited about the possibility because this is such an important election and people need as many vote centers as possible in their own neighborhoods, especially during a pandemic when some are quarantining,” Gibson said. “This was also an opportunity to let our local community know we are here to not only meet their health care needs but to support their right to vote.”

She brought the opportunity forward and, on Sept. 25, the health system committed to being a vote center. The county next performed a site visit to determine the space met the needed square footage, technical and parking requirements, and the Soto location was approved.

The Health Sciences Campus will be one of four polling places for 90033 residents, who are predominantly Latino.

“We are very proud to meet an unmet need in our surrounding community, especially for those who might have been underserved in past elections,” said Smitha Ravipudi, MPH, chief executive officer of USC Care and Ambulatory Care Services for Keck Medicine, who also leads Keck Medicine’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion steering committee. “I am also extremely moved by the cross-campus momentum and tremendous sense of unity behind this initiative.”

Keck Medicine employees and visitors who are residents of Los Angeles County can also vote at the Soto location because Los Angeles County residents have the option to cast their ballots at the vote center of their choice.

This year, voters can expect to see many changes at polling places compared to years past due to the safety precautions L.A. County is putting in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Centers will provide hand sanitizer, masks and gloves and all check-in stations and ballot marking devices will be physically distanced from each other, among other safety measures.

Voters also can further protect themselves from possible coronavirus exposure by wearing glasses or a face shield in addition to a face mask, as new research is showing the virus can enter through the eyes, recommends Neha Nanda, MD, medical director of infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship for Keck Medicine.

The Health Sciences Campus vote center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. Parking will be free.

In addition to hosting a vote center, Keck Medicine also is making bedside voting available to patients at any of the health system’s hospitals during the early voting period and on Election Day. This service is made possible by the patient and family experience office.

A vote center also will be open at the Galen Center, on the University Park Campus, from Oct. 30 through Nov. 3.

— Alison Rainey