How nursing home residents are voting during Covid-19

In elections a majority of voters are people in older generations. In the past presidential election this group made up 49% of the ballots cast. This percentage plays a vital role in selecting elected officials, but because of Covid-19 many of the 70,000 residents in nursing homes in Ohio could face difficulties when voting.

            While most nursing home residents in Ohio get an absentee ballot, many nursing homes across the state aid residents who need help voting in the form of supervised absentee voting. Usually this consists of two people from the Board of Elections who belong to the two major political parties. These people will deliver and return the ballots to their designated area. Due to Covid-19 the over 900 nursing homes in the state have limited and even banned visitations to residents in order to keep the high risk population safe, because of this the voting assistants for the Board of Elections will be unable to help some residents, but they still have the right to vote.

Photo Credit: Kent Wired Terrie Nielson explains the training nursing home employees must go through to assist residents in voting.

            In Portage County there are 16 congregate care communities. “We had a ZOOM call with all the facilities in August and asked them in light of the current situation how did they want to proceed. Were they going to be allowing us into their facilities or not.” said Terrie Nielson, Deputy Director of the Board of Elections. During this call they found that half of the facilities would let them in to assist voters, 2 facilities would be doing mail in voting only, and 6 of them would have employees help residents.

            Employees helping residents vote must go through training with the BOE to make sure everything is balanced. While assisting residents there must be a Democrat(D) and Republican(R) with the ballots “We need to be able to prove or show that we gave 8 ballots for these 8 voters to a D and an R at a facility. Everybody signs off that those ballots were all received. And then once the voting is done, they will contact us and we will come and pick them up and again the 8 ballots came back and they are completed or rejected by the voter.” said Nielson. While helping with voting employees must follow specific rules that they will learn at the training. “You can’t leave the ballots unattended. The ballots need to be with both the D and the R. You can’t just have one person go vote these 4 people and the other vote the other 4 people,” Said Nielson. “You have to do it together,” Other rules taught include when you are able to help the residents in the voting process.  “Only assist the voter if requested. You can’t start filling in their ovals for them, you have to ask them what they need.” Since many of the residents in these facilities are elderly, they have many different reasons to need help voting. “Sometimes residents need the ballots read to them. Their eyesight not good,” said Nielson. “Some voters will have shaky hands so they will ask that the ovals be filled in by the workers, but the other worker needs to be there to observe that the residents wishes are being followed.

            Longmeadow Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center residents is one of the facilities that has opted to have employees help residents vote. Activities Director Margee Kimmel explains that they are not allowing anyone to come in at this time. This is because they currently have no Covid-19 cases and do not want to take the risk of bringing it into the facility. “We are trying to stay and remain Covid free, our facility hasn’t had it yet,” Kimmel said. “So, the fewer the people we have in our facility the better, better chances are we can keep it out.”