Updated: Oct 6
Unfortunately, many older people who are receiving care at nursing homes or assisted living communities aren’t always able to exercise that right. They may be intimidated by the thought of getting to the polls and potentially waiting in long lines. Some might even wonder whether, as long-term care residents, they’re still allowed to vote.
Old age and physical frailty don’t have to be barriers to the voting process. If your loved one is living at home or with relatives, requesting an absentee by-mail ballot may be the best course of action. In Tennessee, you can request an absentee by-mail ballot if you’re age 60 or older, dealing with a hospitalization or physical disability and can’t access the polling place, or you’re providing care to someone who is hospitalized, ill, or disabled. You’ll need to submit a written request to your local election commission by mail, fax, or email. The request must be received by your local election commission no later than seven days before the election. July 30th is the request deadline for the August 6, 2020, state, and federal primary and county general election.
If your loved one is living in a nursing homes, assisted living communities or another long-term care facility, what can you do to make sure they are able to exercise their right to vote? Many states (including Tennessee) have instituted accommodations for elderly voters unable to get to the polls. Even if mental or physical limitations make it difficult for residents of long-term care facilities to appear in person at a voting location, they can still cast their ballots. Thirty-two states have statutes that specifically address voting by residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities. Mobile polling, also known as supervised absentee voting, is the most common form of assistance, permitted by statute in 23 states. These efforts are conducted in the residential facility, by a bipartisan team of workers trained by local election officials. Some states determine where mobile polling will be offered based on the number of people who have requested absentee ballots, and others on the number of registered voters in residence.
In many long-term care facilities, staff members find out which residents want to vote. They then contact the local Election Commission to request absentee ballots for those residents. If residents needed help completing the absentee ballots, staff members assist and then return those ballots to the Election Commission.
In some facilities, residents cast their votes during the early voting period preceding each election. The Election Commission contacts their facility and lets them know when a representative will be coming to the facility to facilitate the onsite voting process. The facility has a list of residents wishing to vote ready for the Election Commission representatives when they arrive. A private area is set up and election officers come to the facility and offer one-one-one assistance to residents.
When it comes to making voting easy and convenient for residents, follow-through is critical. It is important that the facility know which residents want to vote so they can get the absentee ballots to them in a timely manner. And it’s important to note that every long-term care facility handles the process differently. Some facilities make an extra effort to get out the vote and others do very little to help residents exercise this important right. Many times it falls to the family or the resident to make those wishes known and request help.
If your loved one is in a long-term care facility, ask about the ways the facility supports residents’ right to vote. The most proactive facilities typically do the following:
Help residents register to vote
Help residents get absentee ballots or coordinate onsite voting during the early voting period
Host debate watching events
Host political discussions
Provide transportation to the polls
Provide information on upcoming elections and candidates
Distribute sample ballots to familiarize residents with voting procedures
Post reminders about registration deadlines
We applaud all these efforts and believe it’s vitally important that every citizen have the opportunity to make their voice heard. If you are concerned that a loved one who lives in a long-term care setting may not be able to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote, contact your local Long-term Care Ombudsman at www.ltcombudsman.org/ombudsman for assistance. To learn more about who is eligible to vote absentee by-mail or to find your local election commission, visit GoVoteTN.com.