submitted by Bria Lewis, Esq.
The 2020 Presidential Election is fast approaching and many long-term care residents are at risk for not being able to cast a vote. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nursing homes and adult care facilities to have strict visitation policies. Therefore, family members, Ombudsman representatives, and other visitors that would assist residents with voting are currently not able to do so.
Federal regulations for long term care facilities protect residents’ rights to vote. The rule states that the resident has the right to exercise his or her right as a resident of the facility and as a citizen or resident of the United States. The facility must ensure that the resident can exercise his or her rights without interference, coercion, discrimination, or reprisal from the facility. Additionally, the resident has the right to be free from interference, coercion, discrimination, and reprisal from the facility in exercising his or her rights and to be supported by the facility in the exercise of his or her rights.
While federal regulations state that staff must support residents in casting a vote, this is not always the case. Between 2018 and 2019 Medicare documented complaints from various nursing homes across the country in which residents stated that they were not given the opportunity to vote, or were unable to get help casting a vote. Moreover, residents are faced with numerous challenges such as physical disabilities including, reading the ballot and filling out forms and access to information, including registration and deadlines. With many facilities understaffed due to the pandemic, voting assistance may be a low priority.
Residents make up a large group of older American voters. There are approximately 2.2 million residents living in a nursing home or adult care facility. Furthermore, older adults play a huge role in elections. On average older Americans are more likely to vote than younger Americans. In the Midterm Election in 2018, 66% of Americans 65 and older voted compared to 35% of Americans among adults 18 to 29. It is important that we do our part to help residents cast their vote in the upcoming election.
If you are a resident or a family member of a resident and need help with voting, here are some additional resources that can help. Vote.org contains information on registration and voting whether by in-person or by mail for New York State. For more information visit New York’s election page: https://www.vote.org/state/new-york/. Additionally, the Long Term Care Community Coalition has created a web page specifically for voting resources for long-term care residents. For more information visit: https://nursinghome411.org/voting/.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right and living in long-term care does not undermine it”
-Elder law expert Nina Kohn on the Nursing Home 411 Podcast
The Center for Elder Law & Justice is available to provide assistance. If you are a resident or family member of a resident in a nursing home or adult care facility and have questions, please call us at (716) 853-3087.