UVa Conference Discusses Obstacles of Aging and Voting

By: Mark Tenia Email
By: Mark Tenia Email

October 10, 2008

"It's a fundamental right, voting is, and we should care about any time where we find that that vote is not being maximized," said Jason Karlawish, a medical ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

"I think it's clearly one of those issues that people really, it's under the radar, people are not thinking about it, except perhaps the families and the individuals that are having some difficult" said UVa law professor Richard Bonnie.

But Friday the issue was on everyone's radar at a University of Virginia conference, the university releasing a study to show just how different registration policies are across the state for the elderly in long term care. Many of whom have developed disabilities, but still have the capacity to vote.

"There are many practices that people kind of routinely engage in that unintentionally end up disadvantaging people with disabilities and creating impediments for them to do what everyone has a right to do," said Bonnie.

Impediments in registration, absentee voting and polling places, in part, because of complicated practices. The study leading to recommendations saying the state and these facilities should become more involved in making the process easier and more accessible for elderly voters with disabilities, both physical and mental.

"It's clear that in some nursing homes that have been more affirmative about this, the voting rates are higher than in cases in which they've not," said Bonnie.

And organizers of the conference hope that this will just be the first step in bettering the process.

"If you take efforts to get people registered and get them access to the ballot, that you will see results," said Karlawish.

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