Voting in a Nursing Home

I was disabled when I cast my first vote in 1972. Since the polling place was not user friendly for me, two poll workers came to my parent’s vehicle and assisted me. Voting should have made me feel empowered but instead it made me feel peculiar. I went to the polls and used the car voting method once more before I decided that voting absentee was easier, more private, and more empowering.

When I moved to a nursing home in 1996 at age 47, I had many things to be concerned about and voting was not in the forefront. Since the nursing home was in a different county, I thought I would have to meet residency requirements or request an absentee ballot from my former county of residence. I failed to check it out, was in the dark, and did not vote.

I made a mental note to find out more about voting before the congressional election in 1998. Since I am unable to read the local newspaper without assistance, I had no way to get information about local candidates. My only option was to have others tell me. But being an independent thinker, I like to do my own fact finding. In my nursing home world there seemed to be few people who would or could discuss politics with me. I decided that when I voted I wanted to vote absentee by myself, with the assistance of one person as I had done for years, and not at the nursing home’s designated time.

By 2000 I had lived here for four years and my computer was connected to the Internet. I researched Ohio voter registration online and discovered that I could easily register and request an absentee ballot there. A couple of weeks before, the election activities asked if I wanted to vote with the other residents. I said I had already registered and applied for an absentee ballot that would be mailed to me. When she asked how I had done that, I told her I did it online, which gave me a great sense of accomplishment.

When my absentee ballot arrived, I asked if a staff member could assist me in completing it. The staff seemed uneasy about my request and I thought I would be required to vote with the other residents at the assigned time. But an aide and poll worker offered to help me cast my vote. I kept the voting booklet and she had the stylus and punch card. I gave her my number choices and she punched the card, allowing me to see what she had done each time. I was pleased to vote for the first time in eight years.

I have voted absentee with the assistance of one person in all elections since. I do not know if the nursing home feels comfortable with the way I vote. When I last voted in 2006, I had a friend assist me to complete my ballot. I have never gone to the voting sessions conducted here by election officials. The number of residents who vote here varies. But there are alert and oriented residents, able to read the newspaper, and watch TV, who could.

Since I have not ever been inside a polling place, I asked a poll worker if there is a voter vetting process and was told there is none per se. I am concerned about voter fraud everywhere, but particularly in nursing homes. Internet research for this post revealed that adult children of elderly parents have admitted to voting by absentee ballot for their elderly parent. They felt doing so was all right as long as they voted the way their parent would have. They had no idea they were breaking the law.

In my research I also learned that some feel a simple verbal test should be given to nursing home residents wanting to vote. I would be willing to take it. An example question would ask the names of the presidential candidates and their respective parties. I think all potential voters should know that much in order to vote.

Residents need to know how voting is conducted in a nursing home. Several months before the election residents should be asked if they intend to vote and if they are registered. Then residents could then be assessed to determine their ability to vote and offered any assistance they might need to do so. Some residents might enjoy voting at the polls. Some suggest nursing homes could be polling places. But if residents choose to vote on their own or have a family member assist them, the staff should be informed. The sacred trust of voting should not be left to chance.

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