Helping older voters get to the polls
Individuals, facilities and elections officials have roles and limitations
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the people in the United States age 18 to 24 who are eligible to vote typically do not. By comparison, the voting rate was about 90 percent for older men and women who vote. Ohio's two million residents age 60 or older can have a significant impact on elections, when they choose to vote.
Sometimes, older adults want to vote but are unable to for various reasons. An individual may have moved and is not sure if, or how, to register to vote. Someone may have moved to an assisted living facility for a short time to recover from an illness or has moved there permanently, and is unsure how this impacts his or her voting status. An older adult may have problems physically getting to a polling location or voting.
Legally, what can we do to help an older adult exercise one of the most basic freedoms in our society? Any properly registered individual who wishes to vote must be included and offered all allowable assistance to cast a ballot. Under Ohio law, only a probate court can declare an individual to be incompetent for the purposes of voting.
Family members are allowed to help their loved ones register to vote. When a voter moves into or within Ohio, he or she must complete a voter registration form showing the change of address and file it with the board of elections in the county to which he or she has moved. For the purposes of voter registration, a residence may include a family member's home or an assisted living facility. The key to determining residency is where the voter intends to return. If an assisted living facility is for temporary purposes, "residence," for the purposes of voter registration, is a place other than the facility. An absentee ballot can still be sent to the facility, even though the voter resides elsewhere in Ohio.
Family members may help their loved ones request an absentee ballot through the mail. Many registered Ohio voters are eligible to request an absentee ballot through the mail from their county boards of elections. Some Ohio voters find this option more convenient, as they are able to vote at their leisure, without leaving home.
Family members also may return the ballot to the county board of elections and, under some circumstances, may help their loved ones in marking the ballot. If the voter has filed the appropriate form with the board of elections naming a family member as his or her "attorney in fact," the voter may have the family member sign the identification envelope for him or her. Family members also help their loved ones get to their polling place on Election Day or may help voters with disabilities while voting at the polling location. The majority of polling places in Ohio have been configured to be ADA-compliant.
In assisted living facilities, staff may help residents register to vote. When a voter moves into an assisted living facility with the intention of staying permanently, that individual must use that address as his or her residence when registering to vote. Staff also may help residents request an absentee ballot through the mail and, under some circumstances, may offer assistance in marking the ballot. Employees of assisted living facilities should contact the board of elections in the county where the facility is located for help in making sure the facility's residents have access to voting.
Locally, county boards of elections may provide staff representatives to help residents of assisted living facilities with access to voting. When helping individual residents, boards are required to provide equal numbers of representatives from each of Ohio's two major political parties. Board representatives may offer residents assistance in marking ballots, but are required to offer such services only to individuals who are confined to a facility because of illness, disability or infirmity.
Elections officials also may provide and encourage the use of absentee ballot request forms. Some county boards provide assisted living facilities with a list of registered voters residing at those facilities and remind employees that those voters may request absentee ballots.
Current Ohio law permits a limited number of forms of identification to be used to enable an individual to vote. When voting in person on Election Day, individuals may use a current and valid Ohio driver's license or Ohio state identification card, a military identification card, or official correspondence that includes the individual's registered address, including utility bills, bank statements, paychecks and other government documents.
Recognizing that many Ohio residents in assisted living situations may not have some of these forms of identification, in 2008 the Ohio Secretary of State's office declared that utility bills issued by an assisted living facility, even those that have a "zero balance," are acceptable forms of identification. When a voter votes before the election, by absentee ballot or in-person, voter identification requirements are as simple as providing a valid driver's license number or the last four digits of his or her social security number.
The Voting Rights Institute in the office of Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has compiled a general guide, "Serving Ohio's Aging Population," to answer some of the common questions raised by individuals who assist older Ohioans in voting. For more details, please contact your county board of elections or the Voting Rights Institute toll-free at 1-877-868-3874 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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