Steps Facilities Can Take to Ensure Residents Get the Chance to Vote

Allison O’Shea, Executive Director of Waltonwood Lake Boone in Raleigh, North Carolina

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to senior care facilities daily. One of the greatest upcoming challenges will be ensuring that residents get the chance to vote in the upcoming presidential election. With Tuesday, November 3rd quickly approaching, facilities need to take action now to maximize resident voting participation in November.

How the Pandemic Changes Resident Voting

The risks posed by the pandemic and the requirement for physical distancing mean that the way that residents vote may need to change.

For facilities that typically act as registered polling centers, offering residents the convenience of being able to vote right on premises, that option may need to change. Facilities may opt not to become polling centers, but will need to find alternative arrangements for seniors.

The controversy around the United States Postal Service has also created doubt and uncertainty in whether mail-in ballots may be counted. While this might traditionally be a first choice alternative to in-person voting, facilities will need to take an active role in helping residents understand and determine which option works best for them.

Allison O’Shea, Executive Director of Waltonwood Lake Boone in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains that her facility’s residents are facing new challenges with the upcoming election. “I think that in most years, accessibility and getting to and from the polls is one of the biggest challenges,” says O’Shea. “Another challenge we see quite often is that a lot of residents have moved from other states, and their home may still technically be in that previous address.”

In 2016, Waltonwood Lake Boone ran a bus all day to transport residents to and from the polls. The facility also has absentee ballot applications available for residents. “We’ve been passing those absentee ballot applications out for the past month or so,” notes O’Shea. “If anyone has any questions about their specific circumstance, our Life Enrichment Manager will help work with them.”

Adapting to New Challenges

This year, Waltonwood Lake Boone is taking a different approach. O’Shea explains that staff have been meeting about the election and trying to figure out the best approach. “Our ultimate goal is that everyone completes an absentee ballot,” she says. “We are prepared, if need, once ballots come in, to have a location where they can drop them at the front desk and we can drive those ballots over on the day of the election. We’ve reached out to the election board to make sure that this is okay.”

O’Shea notes that residents are nervous about the mail situation, but mail-in ballots may be the most practical option because of social distancing. Social distancing limits the facility’s bus to transporting just four residents at a time, so while the bus can take residents, the facility is trying to determine how many people want to go to the poll this year.

When ensuring that residents have the chance to vote, O’Shea believes that facilities need to take a proactive role. “Talk about it every month,” says O’Shea. “Also think about your associates – sometimes they don’t have options to get out and vote. The priority is always our residents, but we’re missing a big part of important voters by not extending those same graces to our associates and allowing them the chance to partake in some of the things we’re doing for residents.”

Until November 3rd, O’Shea and her staff will continue to talk about and plan for the election. “We’ll be communicating to our residents that we’re here, and we’ll help you to figure this out.”

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