How to Assist Someone With Voting

One of my earliest memories is of my dad and his sister, my Aunt Marge, animatedly debating the Kennedy and Nixon election contest in 1960.  Dad was for Kennedy, Aunt Marge for Nixon.  Dad’s professor at Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, South Dakota, was George McGovern, who later served as a Senator from South Dakota and a Presidential Candidate in 1972, so I am pretty sure Dad voted straight D for most of his adult life. Although he and Aunt Marge no longer argued about politics, in recent years my dad and his girlfriend, Merna, playfully teased each other about their political differences.  Merna, who often voted Republican, gave Dad a stuffed donkey as a gift, and he gave her a toy elephant in exchange.

Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2014 after he began to show signs of short-term memory loss and confusion. In 2016, however, Dad was eager to vote in the Presidential election.  His voter registration in Oregon lapsed, and he no longer had a valid driver’s license.  He persisted, though, and got a government ID and registered to vote. Oregon mails ballots to all registered voters and a good friend helped him mark his ballot.  The picture above is my dad and Merna happily displaying their completed ballots just before dropping them in the mail.

Although it might seem like a person with dementia does not have the ability to vote, persons with dementia can continue to vote. Even with his short-term memory loss, my dad knew what voting meant and he knew who he wanted to vote for. According to the American Bar Association’s pamphlet titled Assisting Cognitively Impaired Individuals with Voting:  A Quick Guide published this year, a medical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia does not disqualify someone from voting.  The ABA suggests that voting is like riding a bike – you won’t know if someone can ride a bike until they get on the bike!  So, if someone you know expresses the desire to vote, you can help them get a ballot or get to their polling location and let them try to vote.  If they don’t have the capacity, they won’t be able to complete the ballot.

In Georgia, having a guardian appointed does not take away someone’s legal right to vote. “The appointment of a guardian is not a determination regarding the right of the ward to vote.”

– Georgia guardianship statutes Art.3 29-4-20(b).   If you are not in already Georgia, check your state laws if you are assisting a person under guardianship with voting.

If someone asks for your assistance in voting, how can you help them? 

With an absentee ballot, you can help the person mark their ballot and return it via mail or a secure ballot box, but you cannot influence who they vote for.  For example, if someone asks you who you think they should vote for, you should tell them that you are not able to tell them who to vote for, and that the choice is totally theirs.

Although I think I know who my father would vote for, I cannot mark his ballot unless he specifically tells me the name of the person he wants to choose.  You can read the names on the ballot, but should not give them any information about the candidate except that information provided on the ballot.  If they want to choose someone not on the ballot, you should write that name in rather than telling them they cannot choose the person because they are not on the ballot. 

If you are assisting someone who is voting in person, you cannot go in the voting booth with them unless the person asks you to be present.  Also,  you may want to help them make sure they did not return an absentee ballot, if they cannot remember whether they requested a ballot.  In Georgia, you can check the Georgia My Voter page to see whether an absentee ballot was issued and if it has been returned.

In Georgia, a voter who is unable to sign his or her name or use the voting equipment or who needs support to enter the voting booth can bring someone to help. Although they can choose any individual to help, the person who assists cannot be the person’s employer or a representative of the employer or his or her union.  Also, they cannot be a poll worker or poll watcher who is a resident of the precinct where the voter is trying to vote.

Each individual assisting the voter must record his or her name on the elector’s voter certificate.

With other forms of disability, some options available for voters with disabilities include audio ballots for visually impaired individuals and magnifying features are available for every touch screen in Georgia.  In addition, the voting screens allow someone in a chair or in a wheelchair to vote.

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