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As Long as We Remember...

November 22, 2006

Nursing Homes and the Vote

Tom McLaughlin

Nobody disagrees with allowing disabled persons who reside in nursing homes to vote. Every effort should be made to accommodate and help these individuals to cast their ballots. However, the potential of abuse, whether intentional or not, must be realized.

I wrote in a recent article that the Board of Elections in Worcester County did not follow prescribed legal guidelines while helping these individuals complete their absentee ballots ( There was not a Democrat and Republican person present, in many instances, while the person was "assisted." The members of the board went around and chose the voters in another nursing home. The staff, by virtue of recertification of funding, was another. This must not be tolerated.

But how to prove it?

I interviewed many workers who casually or intently observed the actions of the board. Most agreed there were questionable practices. In one nursing home, a staff member had to "put her foot down" and not allow certain patients, who were obviously incompetent, to vote. This was the basis for the conclusions I reached.

I was asked if I interviewed residents who voted. I had no intention of disturbing these individuals, as I am quite aware that I could arrange for many to support my thesis and just as many to disclaim it. I am taking care of my 91-year-old father and realize the vulnerability of these members of our greatest generation.

The ballots were recorded on photocopies and then transcribed onto regular ballots so the Diebold machine could read them. This raises another question. How many ballots were photocopied? Were they numbered? This opens another avenue of possible abuse that must be investigated.

We could retrieve the photocopied ballots and analyze them for any indication of trends in voting patterns not normal with the population. But then another problem crops up, the right of privacy secured by the Supreme Court decisions under the Ninth Amendment.

Does the right to vote and the protection thereof under the constitution and civil rights acts yield the right to privacy? Should privacy be waived to secure the right to vote?

I believe the right to vote and the right to privacy are inseparable. Therefore a ballot must be presented to all voters and if a scribble or drawing results, that is their vote. Only a judge, who deems a person incompetent, can deny a person his or her vote. For the blind, a Braille ballot must be provided; for those who cannot hold a pen or pencil, a voice-recorded ballot must be devised. Technology has advanced so all of these are possible.

There are also problems with registering voters in nursing homes. Information has surfaced that individuals from one political party, we will call it Alpha, went into these homes and registered these individuals to reflect that party.

A daughter, whose mother has always been a member of party Alpha, was stunned to see she was register to party Beta. As in voting, there must be ways to register voters without interference or persuasion by others. These individuals from a particular political party must be banned from nursing homes. There must be some way to register voters by neutral means. Again, technology can solve this problem.

Although there was probably no fraud and likely no sinister goals in the voter registration process, "probably" or "likely" is not enough. The right to vote coupled with the right of privacy must be guaranteed.

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