Helping Residents Vote in 2020

COVID-19


With the election less than a month away and a pandemic that uniquely targets the long term care population still rampant, providers have an opportunity to play a larger role in helping residents exercise their right to vote in 2020. As the prevalence of COVID-19 continues to require targeted restrictions and precautions for indoor visiting, previous strategies to facilitate voting for residents, such as making facilities polling places on Election Day, have likely shifted to reduce the risk to residents and staff. Nonetheless, our seniors and other residents have a right to make their voice heard, and providers should make every effort to assist them in doing so.  

For nursing homes, this is nothing new, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has regulations regarding residents’ rights, including their rights as citizens, which would include the right to vote: 

  • §483.10(b) Exercise of Rights.  The resident has the right to exercise his or her rights as a resident of the facility and as a citizen or ​resident of the United States.  
    • §483.10(b)(1) The facility must ensure that the resident can exercise his or her rights without interference, coercion, discrimination, or reprisal from the facility.  
    • ​§483.10(b)(2) The resident has the right to be free of 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 as required under this subpart. 
CMS recently issued a memo specific to this issue, encouraging nursing home owners and administrators to collaborate with states and localities to ensure a resident’s right to vote this year. Learn more from AHCA/NCAL's summary of the memo​.

Here are some specific resources and ideas to help providers in assisting residents who would like to vote this year. This is a great opportunity for an activity director to coordinate with the local community and help residents engage. It is also an opportunity to engage your resident council and family council in supporting residents in exercising their right to vote.  

First and foremost, make sure any activities surrounding voting do not pressure residents with regard to their voting choices or preferences.  As stated in the above regulation, providers should help make sure residents are able to exercise their right to vote but should avoid any appearance of interference or coercion.  ​

Help Residents Register to Vote 

The first step is making sure residents who want to vote are registered to vote. Deadlines to register vary by state.  


If there is still time to register in your state, and given indoor visitation restrictions and risks, consider ways to use outdoor spaces (weather permitting). For example, you could hold a voter registration drive as an outdoor or tented event and invite representatives from the LTC Ombudsman office or your local election commission. They can hand out registration forms and mail-in ballot applications (if applicable), as well as answer residents’ questions. Just make sure all participants are adhering to infection control guidelines. If an in-person event is not possible, your state or local election commission can still provide written materials that provide important voting information.  

Help Residents with Mail-In/Absentee Ballots ​

Due to the threat that COVID poses to long term care residents, many may prefer to mail in their ballot or vote early (if offered in your state), rather than going to a polling place on Election Day.  

Once again, rules regarding mail-in or absentee ballots vary by state. Check out ‘Can I Vote’ to easily find your state’s specifics with absentee or early voting. 

When residents receive their ballots in the mail, make sure staff understand what they can and cannot help with when it comes to assisting residents in filling out their ballots. For example, an assistance provider should ask the voter what choice he or she wants to make. The assistance provider must never make assumptions regarding how a person wants to vote. If the resident has a power of attorney, that person should be contacted about helping the resident fill out their ballot. 

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) affirm the right to a private, independent, and accessible vote for people with disabilities. Your state and local election commission can be a great resource on how the voting process in your state supports this right. Some additional resources to review are: 


Pay particular attention to any state requirements regarding the authenticity of mail-in ballots. For example in Missouri, absentee ballots must be notarized. Make sure your staff understand these requirements ahead of time, so they can be ready to help residents not only complete their ballots but avoid any pitfalls for disqualification.  

Send in completed ballots as soon as possible, whether by mail or at local ballot drop boxes, if your state or county offers them.  

Many states also offer voters the ability to track their ballot online. Work with the resident or their loved one, if they wish to make sure their ballot was received and qualified to be counted. Sending in ballots quickly may help a resident address any issues flagged with their ballot promptly, to ensure it will be counted. 
 

What If Residents Still Want to Go to the Polls on Election Day?  ​

There may be some residents who prefer to vote in-person, either through early voting (if applicable in your state) or on Election Day. This is their right to do so, but given the exposure risk due to COVID, staff should work with each resident (and any friends or family that are helping) to educate and guide decisions about this outing to help reduce the risk of exposure to other residents and staff. 


Tip: Communicate with Families and Loved Ones 

As we’ve seen through the pandemic, constant communication with residents’ family members, friends and legal representatives is pivotal. Keep loved ones aware of how you’re helping residents exercise their right to vote and see how they can help partner with you in this effort. If your state allows it, see if residents want their loved one’s help in filling out their ballot via video chat. See if they can help track the resident’s ballot, if the resident wants their help. If a family member wants to take their loved one to the polls on Election Day, make sure they are informed on how best to limit exposure and what precautions will be in place when the resident returns. For residents with a power of attorney, their representative should be contacted to help with voting. ​

Additional Resources  

Check out these organizations for additional resources on helping residents vote: 

At a local level, you might also consider reaching out to your LTC Ombudsman office, the local AARP chapter, or your local election commission​ to answer specific questions or get custom resources.