When Putnam County Election Administrator Debbie Steidl asked if I’d be willing to travel to local nursing homes and assisted living facilities to help residents vote on-site, I said yes. I’ve always been glad that those unable to get to the polls have the opportunity to vote, but had never understood exactly how the process works.
Now I do.
Before early voting began, each facility provided the Election Commission with a list of residents who wanted to vote. Those voters had to be registered in Putnam County and, in the judgment of the nursing home staff, be of sound mind. On an agreed-upon day and time, one full-time election staff member and two temps (one Democrat, one Republican) loaded up voting materials and travelled in the same car to the facility.
Residents who weren’t bedridden gathered in a commons area and, one at a time, came to vote in private at the table where we were set up. Because of poor eyesight or other frailty, many needed help reading the ballot and marking the bubble sheet. That kind of assistance we were allowed to provide. We couldn’t, however, advise voters about which primary to choose or answer questions about any of the candidates. (The same rules apply in all voting situations, not just at nursing homes.)
One voter was persistent in trying to get me to help her figure out who was who. “Jeb Bush,” she said, pointing to the first name on the Republican ballot, “hasn’t he already been President?” I told her I wasn’t allowed to answer questions about the candidates. “And this Carly woman. What company was she in charge of?” Again, I didn’t answer. But she kept on asking. “Does Trump have enough political experience to be President?” “Which of these people is a doctor?” “That heavyset governor—what’s his name?”
All I could do was throw up my hands and shake my head until she finally gave up and made her choice.
When we finished in the commons area, we carried our materials to the rooms of voters who couldn’t get out of bed. Which was wonderful and heartbreaking all at the same time. One woman sat with a newspaper opened in front of her. “I’ve been studying as much as I can,” she told us apologetically, “but I’m worried I’m not as well-informed as I should be.”
In another room, a man lay flat on his back in the semi-darkness. “I’ll have to make an X,” he said. “I’m too shaky to sign my name.” But he knew which primary he wanted to vote in and which candidate was his choice.
One voter expressed frustration that he couldn’t walk well enough to go to the patio and smoke after he finished voting. His roommate, who was bald, joked that he was glad he didn’t have to go outside because it was raining and he didn’t want to mess up his hair. Another teased that he wasn’t sure he ought to tell us his name because he might owe one of us money. The most amusing remark came from a woman who—unprovoked, of course–wagged her finger at me and said she wasn’t going to vote for Hillary Clinton because God didn’t want a woman to be President.
Almost without exception, each voter thanked us for coming. “I’ve never missed voting in a single election,” several of them said. “I consider it my patriotic duty.” Kind of makes you wonder if the rest of us have any excuse at all if we don’t vote.
(March 13, 2016)