In its regular communication with nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the Texas Long-Term Ombudsman’s Office has been emphasizing the importance of this right.
Recent developments in Harris County involve accusations of harvesting ballots from nursing home residents.
“Voting rights is something the ombudsmen are really passionate about. We know the right doesn’t go away; it just requires more planning,” Alexa Schoemann, Deputy State Ombudsman told The Texan.
In Texas, absentee mail-in ballots may be requested by anyone age 65 or over or by those who are sick or disabled. The last day to request a mail-in ballot for the upcoming election is October 23.
“Nursing home facility staff should not make a judgment about a resident’s capacity to vote,” Schoeman explained. “The facility should assist any resident interested in exercising his or her right to vote.”
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, the facility may assist voters in completing the application to vote-by-mail, and there is no limit on the number of mail-in ballot applications a person can assist with.
Once residents apply for a mail-in ballot, they have the right to prompt, confidential delivery of the unopened ballot, Schoeman said.
Recent regulations issued by Texas Health and Human Services require nursing homes to allow access to nursing home residents by essential caregivers, designated family members who provide care and companionship. These caregivers can assist their loved ones in completing mail-in ballots.
Unfortunately, assisted living centers do not have to allow essential caregiver visits, so those residents may not have the same access to family members to help with their voting, Schoeman explained.
If a resident is unable to complete his or her own ballot, assistance is allowed, but is limited to:
- reading the ballot to the voter;
- directing the voter to read the ballot;
- marking the voter’s ballot as directed by the voter;
- directing the voter to mark the ballot; and
- serving as an interpreter.
Additionally, residents may still go to vote in-person at a polling place. The Ombudsman’s Office has educated the facilities on limiting COVID-19 risks, including utilizing curbside voting options.
If a resident is taken to vote by a family member, the resident will have to quarantine for 14 days upon return to the facility.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.