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Voting in a Nursing Home

September 29, 2008
by Kathleen Mears
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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.

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Voting is more difficult if you've lost function. In order to continue to vote diligence and the ability to ask others for the assistance you need are necessary.

We make every effort to help our seniors (four nursing homes and four indepedent living residences) vote.
One person in each residence has been trained by the Board of Elections to assist in voter registration we extend an invitation to all candidates to visit our residences, we assist residents with absentee voting, have representatives from the Board of Elections come to assist residents to vote (nursing homes) and provide transportation for our independent living seniors. One of our nursing homes is a polling place.

These are well-executed ideas. Having a trained individual to assist in registration is a perk more facilities could probably use.

I work at a senior apartment complex next to a nursing home. We have a meet the candidates event to become informed voters with all local candidates attending and often state wide candidates. We also present the issues on the ballot. A sample ballot is copied for each to have as a reference.
On the designated day, two officals from the election office come to help residents vote in a corner of the activity room where they have privacy of voting or vote in their room. They can mark their sample ballot ahead of time if they wish.

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Kathleen Mears

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...