GAO REPORT FINDS VOTING ACCESS, ASSISTANCE TO BE INCONSISTENT WITHIN LONG-TERM CARE FACILITIES
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) released a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on voting access for residents of long-term care facilities. The report found that 78 of the 92 localities GAO surveyed take steps to facilitate voting for long-term care facility residents, with nearly half having election officials visit the facility to assist with the voting process. GAO found that the most common type of voting support was provided by facility staff as they assisted residents with absentee or early voting. However, the report also notes that fewer than half the states provide training to local election officials on state requirements or guidance to facilitate voting for long-term care facility residents.
The report outlined a number of strategies used by long-term care facilities to guarantee voting integrity for residents, including the requirement that voting assistance be provided in a bipartisan manner and the signing of affidavits to document that voting assistance was received. Unfortunately, only 17 states reported that they conduct oversight to ensure that localities follow voting guidelines for long-term care facilities, and that efforts to ensure that ballots are not fraudulently completed by someone else, or that residents are not unduly influenced, vary widely. GAO recommended that the Election Assistance Commission improve voting practices in long-term care facilities through the collection and dissemination of cost-effective practices for providing voting access while ensuring voting integrity.
"There is more to be done in our efforts to guarantee that every American, regardless of their age or where they live, can exercise their right to vote," said Kohl, Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging. "Ensuring that residents can vote privately and independently should be commonplace procedure within long-term care facilities."
"The good news from this report is that we are making progress in ensuring that senior citizens can vote, but the bad news is that too many of those at long-term care centers still aren't getting the assistance they need to cast their vote on election day," said Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. "This report tells us that there's greater work to be done to improve access to the ballot box and educate seniors in long-term care facilities about how to vote."
Today's report is the third in a series of three that GAO is releasing on voting accessibility this year. The first report, released in June , estimated that only 27 percent of polling places across the country possess all the required features to facilitate private and independent voting for older and disabled voters. A Rutgers University study indicated that people with disabilities are roughly 15 percent less likely to vote than those without, and with the rapid aging of America's population, the number of voters who may face challenges due to impaired mobility will likely grow.
The second report recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) step up its efforts to monitor and oversee polling place accessibility. GAO found that gaps remain in the DOJ's enforcement of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which requires polling places to provide at least one voting system that is fully accessible for those with disabilities. The report outlined inconsistencies regarding physical accessibility requirements, voting system usability, and independent voting and privacy concerns. The report also identified state practices to facilitate access. According to the study, 46 percent of polling places had what is considered to be an accessible voting system that could still pose a problem for those with certain disabilities-for example, a voting station that cannot accommodate voters in wheelchairs.
These reports follow up on a study conducted by GAO during the 2000 elections, which found that only 16 percent of polling sites surveyed nationwide were fully accessible to people with disabilities. Senators requested that GAO conduct the study following a hearing held by the Special Committee on Aging just before Super Tuesday in 2008. The hearing focused on older voters and the various barriers they face in exercising their right to vote, covering issues of poll accessibility, voting within long-term care settings, and on-going concerns that Voter ID laws can disproportionately disenfranchise seniors. Older individuals historically represent a politically-active group, particularly during primary elections which typically attract a lower level of voter turnout.
The report was originally requested jointly by the following:
- Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging
- Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP)
- Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee
- Bob Bennett (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee
- Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), then-Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee (at time of report request)
- Ted Kennedy (D-MA), then-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP)
- Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL)
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The GAO report can be found here: http://www.aging.senate.gov/letters/gaooldervoterstudy3.pdf