The Presidential Election is here. Millions of ballots have already been cast to decide the fate of the nation for the next four years.
Voting is a fundamental right for a democracy, but many challenges prevent American citizens from exercising their legal rights and raising their voices, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Older Americans are very politically engaged, but they are the most affected by the pandemic. In 2018, more than 65% of women aged 65 and above voted, compared to only 38% of those in the 18 to 29 age bracket.
But now it’s more unsafe for them to go to the polls. And for those in nursing homes, the challenges only increase.
While the share of votes cast only by nursing home residents might not affect results at the national level, there is the distinct possibility that it might tip the scales at state and local levels. This is especially true in areas where there is a large elderly population.
Nursing Home Resident Vote At Risk
Almost half a million nursing home residents are eligible to vote. This forms a significant chunk of those eligible to vote in this country- around 4.5% of all older adults. But according to experts, thousands of these residents may not be able to vote.
Problems which hinder their access to the polls include:
1. Increased restrictions under the pandemic
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rack up a staggering death toll, nursing homes have been among the worst hit. According to the New York Times, around 87,000 deaths have been reported among residents and employees at nursing homes. This is around 40% of all deaths in the country due to coronavirus.
Because of this, many restrictions have been in place to protect residents of nursing homes. Unfortunately, these restrictions may also prevent them from voting.
- Friends or family members who could have helped residents get to the polls, or assisted them in other ways, may now be banned from visiting nursing homes.
- Polling places may be far from nursing homes, especially since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations to relocate polling locations away from nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
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Short-staffing has been a problem at nursing homes during the pandemic. So, while nursing homes are required by federal law to help residents vote, there might not be enough manpower to actually help them do that.
Staff shortages were already a problem at nursing homes before the pandemic, but right now, more staff members are falling sick, need to quarantine in their homes, or are simply afraid of risking the health of their families by going in to work.
All these factors might mean that a resident who needs staff assistance to vote might not be able to exercise this constitutional right by making it to the ballot box, or filling in an absentee ballot.
3. Lack of oversight
Ombudsmen, who are authorities specifically appointed to look into complaints against nursing home administration at the state and federal level, have stopped making in-person visits to nursing homes since the beginning of the pandemic in March. Many of the officials who inspect Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes also don’t look into disenfranchisement as an issue within nursing homes.
This means that there is no oversight to ensure that facilities are helping their residents vote.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a memo asking that nursing homes have a plan “to ensure residents can exercise their right to vote, whether in-person, by mail, absentee or other authorized process.”
But many nursing homes might not have a plan in place, and there is no one to check.
4. Prohibitions on states helping residents
Some states have rules which prohibit staff from helping residents vote. For example, in North Carolina, a law passed in 2013 prevents those employed at nursing homes from helping with absentee voting.
While these laws might be to ensure that there is no undue influence on the resident’s voting process, they might also hinder a lawful exercise of the right to vote.
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5. Spread of misinformation
There has been a lot of misinformation about mail-in and absentee voting, even from President Trump and high-ranking public officials.
This may scare away residents from opting to vote by mail or by absentee ballot. And many of these residents might not be able to physically go to the sites for early voting, or to their assigned polling places on Election Day.
Suggesting that mail-in voting might lead to voter fraud is actually disenfranchising elderly residents in nursing homes.
We Can Help
If you feel like your nursing home actively prevented you from exercising your right, don’t remain silent. This is one of your fundamental rights as an American. Ensure that your rights aren’t violated.
If your loved one hasn’t received assistance to exercise their constitutional right, it may be a sign that they aren’t receiving the support and guidance they need from their nursing home.
Check on them to make sure everything is okay. If you need tips or legal support, reach out to one of our experienced lawyers, who have a lot of experience in cases of nursing home abuse and neglect. We can help you investigate. Your consultation will be completely free.