Voting is a constitutional right for all United States citizens, including people with dementia. Election commissions have worked hard to assure that all citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote. However, caregivers may wonder ethically how much assistance they should provide when the person with dementia is filling out a ballot. Some may even wonder if they should assist at all. The following are different perspectives on the issue of voting and dementia:
“Persons with mental disabilities have the same Constitutional rights, including the right to vote, as every other United States citizen. The right to exercise the voting franchise should not be restricted, since it is the foundation of our democratic nation. Every citizen with a mental disability, as every other citizen, is presumed to be competent. In some states, only after there has been a full due process hearing on a persons competency to vote may anyone’s right to vote be restricted” Voting: A Constitutional Right for All Citizens, National Task Force on Accessible Elections, 1999.
On the other hand, some legal experts are concerned about the implications of helping someone with dementia during the voting process. With concern about coercion, they believe a person should only be assisted with mechanical impediments such as filling out a ballot or other necessary election form.
This decision is very individual and personal and should be made by the caregiver or family with the following points in mind:
Points to consider:
- Was the person politically active in the past? Was voting important to the person?
- Can the person explain their opinion in a way that exhibits an understanding and comprehension of the question and decision?
- Has the person expressed a desire to vote?
Tips for voting:
- Request mail-in ballot so the person can take time and fill out the ballot in a comfortable, familiar place.
- Ask the person one or two questions at a time. Too many questions may be overwhelming. Explain the ballot questions in familiar wording.
- Explain the question and ask for the person’s decision more than once. For example, ask the same question several times in a week to see if you get the same answer. Some physician’s use this technique when asking about decisions and they find that the person almost always answers the question the same way even when they can’t remember their original answer or that they were ever asked that question.
- Avoid providing excess help with filling out the ballot.