Care Facility Residents Finding Voting Difficult During COVID-19
During the general election of 2020, elderly residents in nursing homes, assisted living, and other long-term care facilities find casting their ballot more difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic. Voter registration, opting to vote online or by mail, receiving a mail-in ballot, or using a computer, and finally completing and submitting your vote to the proper election authorities, can be a daunting task for seniors. Although rules are becoming less stringent regarding outside visitation, family members still find it difficult to assist their loved ones in voting as it is a multi-step process. Adding to the confusion is the perception of fairness in choosing to vote, in person, online, or by mail.
In past years, senior living facilities would often host polling stations in their lobby or a community room. Yet in 2020, due to fears of COVID-19 transmission and to protect the vulnerable resident population, each senior must come to terms with how they can best make their vote count. Like Janice Phillips, president of her facility's resident council, some seniors with mobility problems have been voting by absentee ballot for years. During the pandemic, Ms. Phillips notes, "We're basically not allowed to go out in public right now, we're more vulnerable, and our immune systems are compromised anyhow. We're basically locked in."
Throughout the country, residence leaders like Janice are working with their facility's activity staff to ensure residents are registered to vote. It is a point of pride for many elder Americans to have voted in every election since they became 18. Both parties solicit this older American voting bloc because of their consistent voter turnout. AARP reports that 71 percent of Americans 65 or more voted in the 2016 presidential election in comparison with only 46 percent of people ages 18-29. The need to accommodate these long-time elderly voters have seen states expand absentee and early voting options to provide additional safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic. AARP guidelines have compiled how to register and vote in the 2020 general election for each state.
After receiving their mail-in ballot, some seniors still find they need help from family or facility staff to complete and return their ballot to election officials correctly. Family and facility staff need to know the proper way to assist residents without influencing their votes and ensuring that residents understand their voting rights. It’s important to note that all states permit persons with trouble accessing polling stations to request an absentee ballot. However, the last day to register to vote by mail is quickly coming to a close and other arrangements may need to be made.
Voting is an important right that registered voters of all ages should be allowed to exercise without undue hardship. Now is the time to speak to the facility your loved one resides in to understand the options available for timely voting. If we can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.