The importance of the senior voice

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After decades of participating in the democratic process, the votes of our senior population are no less important today than they were when they were just 18 years-old. In supporting candidates who advocate for issues important to them, seniors can help shape the agenda and policies for the future. According to AARP, senior involvement in the election process has become more important as they age because much of their health and livelihood are dependent on government assistance. Social Security can make up most of a senior’s household income and Medicare is often the only option they have for healthcare.

Why it’s important

Voting creates a personal connection, and it’s meaningful for many seniors who wish to stay engaged in their community

For those who live in an assisted living or skilled nursing community, it’s still important to remember that our aging parents or loved ones may have interest in voting but may need a little more assistance to be able to participate on Election Day.

“Regardless of age or socioeconomic background their vote counts. Sometimes seniors may feel cut off from the outside world when they move into a senior community. It’s a big life step that initially may make them feel dependent, but assisted living helps to make seniors more independent. Providing the support to vote is just one way that we enable seniors to be independent,” said Jillian Cook, program director with Elderwood Village at Fairport.

There are many ways seniors can familiarize themselves with candidates prior to election day. They can obtain information from local and regional newspapers, or through the internet. They can also gather information on prospective candidates from their senior community. “If our residents do not know the candidates, I offer to get some information on them so they can be informed,” said April Brownson, activities manager with Elderwood Assisted Living at Tonawanda.

Finding your polling place

Most states assign registered voters to a local polling place based on where they live so they can vote on election day. It’s important to remember that if you or your loved one have recently moved to a new location, you must update your address with your local Department of Motor Vehicles to be assigned your new polling place and be able to vote in your new district.

Access to your polling place

Planning for election day is important for seniors – particularly those who do not drive. Seniors may have a variety of options available to them, including rides from family or friends, a senior citizens van from a senior center, or even ride sharing for those tech savvy seniors. Many assisted living communities provide van service and would likely accommodate residents who need help getting to the polls.

Assisting seniors during the voting process

Many assisted living communities that offer transportation services will also offer support for an aging loved one while at the polling place. “We make sure to let seniors know in advance when we’ll be taking them to their polling place, and that it is accessible,” said Cook.

Senior community staff members can help residents who struggle to read a ballot. “Many seniors struggle to read the font or need assistance understanding the process. We will sign waivers when we arrive stating that we will not tamper with their vote so we can help them,” said Cook.

For seniors that live in assisted or skilled nursing communities sometimes getting to a polling place may be difficult, however there are options to still participate in the election process. Absentee ballots help seniors and caregivers that have no way to get to a polling place. All states allow absentee voting. Depending on the state where you live, an application is typically required asking for an excuse on why an individual may not be able to get to their voting place.

“If someone wants an absentee ballot, we will help them fill out the application and mail it in for them to receive a ballot,” said Brownson. Depending on the state, you can typically request an absentee voting ballot through your DMV website.

The big picture

If you have a loved one living in a senior community, you may want to ask their activity director about the types of voting assistance and transportation options available. “Our seniors get excited about voting,” said Brownson. “They still have independence and the choice to vote if they want to. I think it gives seniors a sense of involvement in their community.”

Have a discussion with your loved one about the upcoming election, the candidates, and their desire to vote. If you’d like to have material available, senior living communities can help obtain information for your loved one. As we near this year’s election day, remember to think about the seniors in your life. They have contributed to society over many years and their vote is important.