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For most people, voting consists of walking to the local polling place, stepping into a voting booth, choosing between candidates and receiving an “I Voted” sticker on the way out.

But for others, such as senior citizens in nursing homes, the process is not so easy.

A recent School of Medicine study, published in the current edition of the Election Law Journal, found that a system of mobile polling would go a long way in helping correct voting inconsistencies in nursing homes.

Mobile polling consists of election officials coming to a nursing home, directly registering seniors and bringing them ballots, while providing any necessary assistance, such as reading the ballot to them or marking their choices. Election officials are not to assess who is or is not able to vote, according to the study.

The study also found that voting fraud is common in long-term assisted living facilities.

“Sending trained officials into nursing homes and using voting machines there would be a great improvement” over the older practice of absentee paper ballots, Political Science professor Jack Nagel wrote in an e-mail. “That system invites fraud and abuse.”

When nursing home staff are in charge of helping seniors vote, disenfranchisement tends to occur. This is especially true when it comes to senior citizens with cognitive impairments such as dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, Medical School professor Jason Karlawish said.

“Often you get staff deciding who can or cannot vote,” making it important to “address the issue of preserving the integrity of the ballot, maximizing voter rights and finding a better way of conducting the voting process,” Karlawish added.

The study was conducted in a sample of Vermont nursing homes during the 2008 general election. Some nursing homes conducted voting as usual, allowing staff to administer the process, while others had a trained election official conduct mobile polling in the home.

Results showed that everyone — from nursing home residents, to staff and election officials — agreed that mobile polling was better than ordinary voting methods.

Nursing home staff welcomed the system, grateful for having voting taken care of.

Tara Fletcher, the activities director for Pine Villa, an independent and assisted living facility in Long Beach, Calif., thinks mobile polling would increase the number of voters.

Often, “seniors are forgotten, so you might not have a lot of seniors voting,” she said.

Some counties and states have shown interest in adopting the practice of mobile polling, which is “not widespread enough,” Karlawish said.

Mobile polling also made a positive impact on nursing home residents’ sense of involvement in the voting process.

Karlawish said he was moved by testimonies that mobile polling made users feel like they “were being treated as citizens and people in our democracy,” he said.

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