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Nursing Home Residents Face Even Greater Barriers to Voting Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted by Aubrey Carew Sizer | Oct 07, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has forced nursing homes to place a number of restrictions on their residents. These constraints are having the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for nursing home residents to vote. Hundreds of thousands of nursing home and assisted living community residents could be disenfranchised.

Older Americans are some of the most reliable voters, but nursing home residents face challenges to voting even in normal times, and they are encountering even greater barriers this election season. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, nursing homes have locked down, prohibiting family and friends from visiting residents and residents from leaving the facilities. This means residents may not be able to leave to vote and also will not be able to have help from family members or organizations in obtaining and filling out mail-in ballots. 

In past years, nursing homes and assisted living facilities often acted as polling places, but many of those are being moved due to the pandemic. In addition, nonpartisan organizations have historically been able to enter nursing homes to assist residents with their ballots, but it is unclear whether this will be allowed this year. North Carolina and Louisiana specifically prohibit nursing home staff from assisting residents with their ballots, but even in states that don't explicitly prohibit it, overworked staff may not have the time to help residents. 

While federal law and Virginia law require nursing homes to protect their residents' rights, including the right to vote, it is “a really open question to what extent people in long-term care institutions are going to be able to participate in our election in November,” says Nina Kohn, a law professor at Syracuse University who has studied facility residents' voting-rights issues. Kohn warns that “we should be clear that there is tremendous reason to be concerned that nursing home residents will be . . . systematically disenfranchised in this election,” 

One resource available to Virginia nursing home residents is vote by mail. Residents of Virginia can register to vote and apply to vote absentee by mail on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Online registration is required to be completed 22 days before the upcoming Election Day. In order to be eligible to cast a vote by mail, all mail-in and online absentee voting applications must be received by the Virginia DoE 11 days prior to Election Day. For more information and details on vote by mail in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Elections website here. 

Recently in Virginia, the group "Center for Voter Information" send out pre-filled ballots. Unfortunately, many had the wrong information. So it's really important that all eligible voters who want to vote absentee request a ballot directly from the official site: vote.virginia.gov. To do so, first check that your voter registration status is up-to-date and note that reason codes are no longer needed to vote absentee in-person or by mail in Virginia.
Voter registration deadline in Virginia is October 13.  You can register online here with a Virginia driver's license or state issued ID. Those who are able to register in person should register at the the County Office of Elections. In Fairfax, VA, that office is at 12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 323, Fairfax, open 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. 

For more information about this issue, click here, here, and here.

About the Author

Aubrey Carew Sizer

Aubrey Carew Sizer, Esquire, is the Principal Attorney of The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC, a Northern Virginia law firm providing representation for Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, Guardianship and Conservatorship, Special Needs Planning for the Disabled, and Probate, Estate and Trust Administration.


The Law Office of Aubrey Carew Sizer PLLC provides customized and affordable estate planning (including wills, living trusts, powers of attorney, and advance medical directives); elder law services (including long-term care planning, special needs planning for the disabled, and guardianships and conservatorships); probate, estate and trust administration (including advising executors and administrators of estates about post-mortem planning and the local probate process in Virginia), as well as general aging and disability advice in Northern Virginia, including but not limited to Arlington, Alexandria, Ashburn, Bristow, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Gainesville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Haymarket, Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas, Manassas Park, Reston, Springfield, Sterling, and throughout Loudoun, Prince William, and Fairfax counties.