Nursing home residents might have a new, effective way to let their voices be heard, according to a recent study by Penn Medicine researchers on a process called “mobile polling.”
Mobile polling works by allowing election officials to register voters onsite, then bring voting ballots to long-term care residents and provide voter assistance as needed. According to researchers, nursing home residents, staff, and election officials all agreed that mobile polling is preferred to current voting methods for this population.
“Elections are close. Voting matters, especially in long-term care facilities where there are often hundreds of voters eligible to and interested in voting,” researchers said.
The study was conducted in the state of Vermont during the 2008 general election, with participation from the Secretary of State of Vermont, Deborah Markowitz, who oversees voting policies and procedures. Medicare-designated nursing homes with more than 40 residents were eligible to participate in the study; a total of 24 nursing homes were randomly assigned to the mobile polling intervention (nine facilities) or performed voting as usual (15 facilities). Researchers were unable to precisely assess the impact of mobile polling on the number of residents who voted, because they were unable to obtain lists of residents from most of the long-term care facilities, even at the request of Vermont's Secretary of State.
According to survey results, nursing home staffers reported being uncomfortable when tasked with the role of helping residents vote using traditional voting methods, especially given concerns for assisting voters too much. The mobile polling system, however, "took a lot of pressure off," according to staff member reports.
To help election officials determine whether individual residents needed assistance, the research team developed a procedure to provide appropriate and effective assistance. For instance, election officials could read the ballot to residents, and if the resident asked questions, the election official only responded with answers written on the ballot (i.e. if a state doesn't list candidates by party, election officials said that the ballot does not contain information about party affiliation so they could only read the candidates' names, before the resident placed their vote).
According to researchers, mobile polling should be considered on a state-by-state, county-by-county basis, auditing existing practices to determine whether mobile polling can be integrated effectively.