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Long-Term Care Residents May Face Voting Obstacles

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Photo: Abi Howard

Residents of long-term care facilities may have trouble voting this year. WGCU’s Cary Barbor has more.

In past years, polling places were often located in long-term care facilities. That made it easy for residents to cast their ballots—they didn’t even have to go outside the building. But this year, everything is different.

Polling places have been moved out of long-term care facilities because of the risk of COVID-19, and many residents of the facilities feel it’s too risky to travel to another polling location.

Marshall Kapp is a professor emeritus at Florida State University who specializes in law and medicine:

“The big push is to encourage nursing home residents to take advantage of vote-by-mail opportunities,” said Kapp.

84-year-old David Sharrock of Naples has been voting by mail in Collier County for years. He and his wife continued their practice this year.

“When we took our ballots down to the government center yesterday, when I told the guard that I just wanted to drop my ballots off, he said, you go right through there, drop them in that box, then you can leave – they are making it easy for people to bring in absentee ballots,” said Sharrock.

What residents and their families may not know is that they have the right to vote and the right to assistance if they need it.

A memo issued by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services this month affirmed that long-term care residents are entitled to exercise their rights as citizens without interference. One of those rights is the right to vote.

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care is an advocacy group for residents of long-term care facilities. Robyn Grant is their Director of Public Policy and Advocacy.

“Even without a pandemic, many individuals receiving long-term care services need some kind of assistance in terms of the voting process,” said Grant.

This year, with the coronavirus as a major obstacle, Grant says facilities should have a designated plan to help residents vote.

“If a resident wants to vote, on a very basic level, they may want to ask the social worker, that may be a good place to start, and say, ‘it’s very important that I vote, how can we make that happen?’”

Professor Kapp says friends and family may be the best resource to help long-term care facility residents to vote.

“If you are a family member or friend of someone who is a nursing home resident it would be quite advisable to talk with the resident about whether they want to vote and if they do, to help facilitate that,” said Kapp.

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care offers an ombudsman program, which can help inform residents of their rights and help resolve their complaints. It’s free. You can learn more about that program at TheConsumerVoice.org and click “get help.”

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