Few elections have peaked as much interest as this one.  Today, October 11, 2016, is the deadline for registering to vote here in Michigan.  Although voting is the hallmark of a democracy, it isn't easy if you are in a long-term care facility. Nursing home and other long-term care facility residents face several challenges to voting, from registering to vote to actually casting a ballot.

When you move into a nursing home or assisted living facility, your address changes, which means you probably need to register to vote based on the new address. You can register in person, by mail, or, in some states, online. To register in person, visit your local elections office or your local department of motor vehicles. To find out where to register in your state, go here: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/contact_your_state.aspx.  Alternatively, there is a national voter registration application that you can use to register by mail. The form includes state-specific instructions. Finally, more than 30 states have online registration.  Unfortunately, Michigan does not permit online registration or voting.

Once you are registered, you still need to physically cast your ballot. This can be difficult if you have trouble leaving your facility. There are several methods that nursing home residents may be able to use to vote. All states allow absentee voting, but the requirements are different in each state. Some states require an excuse –- such as a physical disability -- to vote absentee. In many states being at least aged 60 to 65 (depending on the state), is a reason to qualify for an absentee ballot.

Twenty-three states allow mobile polling, which is supervised absentee voting conducted in the residential facility. Mobile polling is often based on demand, so to get mobile polling in your facility, contact your local elections office.  Once again. Michigan does not participate in this program.  Michigan does require that posters to be hung in residential care facilities that explain that ballot coaching (coercing a voter) is illegal.  

What about your capacity to vote.  While mental competency is an eligibility requirement for voting, competency must be decided based on the ruling of a judge—not a family member or facility staff member. And, the decision must be made in regard to voting, not general competency. See Vote. It’s Your Right. A Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law for more on mental competency.

If it is difficult for you to get to the polls on Election Day, 37 states offer early voting. Early voting allows voters to visit an election office and vote in person, and in some states without providing an excuse. This can give you the flexibility to vote when it works for you.  Michigan requires a reason.  Here are the rules for our state: Michigan Early Voting.

For more information about your right to vote while in long-term care, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has fact sheets on How to Register to Vote and How to Cast a Vote.