Our seniors have been called the Greatest Generation.
They take pride in their country and have asked what they can do for it, not what it will do for them since the 1960s.
They have lived their adult lives volunteering in their communities to make the lives of others a little bit better.
They have participated in the process of local, state and federal elections by casting their ballot and letting their voice be heard for many years.
The statistics are telling: approximately 70% of people over 65 vote in presidential elections, compared to 45% of the voting age population overall.
Do they now need their family caregivers’ help to make their voice heard at the ballot box?
Right To Vote
No matter where your senior loved one calls home, they have a right to vote.
If they live in a nursing home or other facility and are unable to get to their polling place, they can vote in absentia via absentee ballot.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures:
- 32 states have statutes that address voting by residents of long term care or other nursing facilities.
- Mobile polling, also known as supervised absentee voting, is the most common form of assistance, permitted by statute in 23 states.
- 18 states have laws specifying who can assist long term care residents to vote. Most commonly, assistance can come from an agent of the voters choosing.
- New Mexico permits a resident of a nursing facility to request an absentee ballot after the close of the application period for absentee ballots, and this may be delivered by a representative of the voter’s choosing.
- Michigan requires posters to be hung in residential care facilities that explain that ballot coaching (coercing a voter) is illegal, and California makes it a crime to coerce a voter while providing assistance.
- Only a judge can deem whether your senior loved one is incompetent to vote, not the nursing home staff or family members.
Obstacles to Overcome
Seniors can face many barriers to casting their ballots in any election. Family caregivers can help them overcome some of these obstacles with a few interventions.
- Facilitate transportation to the polling site. If you are unable to drive them, arrange for transportation through taxi cab, senior transportation, Uber or Lyft or the facility van. Perhaps one of their friends in the area who may be going to the same polling center can give them a ride on election day.
- Vision impairments can inhibit seniors from voting. You can get a sample ballot and review it with them prior to the election. Discuss without coercion who they wish to vote for and help them when the time comes. Staff at the election office can also assist at the booth.
- In the past, paper ballots could be cumbersome for seniors but new technology and tactile voting may make voting a bit easier for some seniors with dexterity issues.
- Accessibility at some voting centers may be a problem for some seniors despite the fact that laws are in place to allow easy access. You may want to check out their polling place to be sure a wheelchair or other mobility device is accessible, parking is available and there are no physical obstructions to their entering the polling place.
- Access to a ballot if they live in a nursing facility. Apply for an absentee ballot or advocate for them with the facility staff to give them mandated access.
- Remembering to update their voter registration information to comply with deadlines. Helping seniors remember when to vote and how to complete the ballot may be necessary.
- Photo ID is required to vote in many states and many seniors who no longer drive may not have this available. Caregivers should check with their senior’s state election office to see what documentation is required and what can be used to help senior’s vote.
- If your senior is not currently registered, they will need your help to register for the next election. It may take up to 30 days to become registered.
Residents’ Rights Month
In October we celebrate Residents’ Rights Month. The topic this year in light of the Presidential election in November is “My Vote Matters”.
The goal is to encourage facilities across the country to help residents’ vote and participate in the political process.
Voting is a fundamental right in our country which includes our aging seniors.
Many seniors find absentee voting the easiest way to make their vote count.
Seniors in facilities will need the assistance of staff or family members to request absentee ballots in time for the Presidential election.
In some states it may not be too late to accomplish this. In other states, they may have to wait for the next election, but should get prepared to vote now as it could take time to process their requests.
Every state has different guidelines and deadlines that need to be followed in order to obtain and return ballots.
If your senior decides to vote using an absentee ballot, they will need to apply for it and be sure that they return it in a timely manner.
Be sure they follow the instructions carefully as some states require a signature on the envelope and other directions.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program can give your more information about this process.
If caregivers would like to help their seniors participate in voting, the US Vote Foundation can help you either register your senior or request an absentee ballot.
Their website offers guidance on voting requirements by state as well as voting methods, options and important dates. There is a tab that details every state’s deadlines that could be helpful.
Even if your senior loved one doesn’t qualify to vote on the November ballot, getting them poised to participate in the political process next time and feel as though their voice still counts, will give them a sense of purpose and importance they will appreciate.