The 2000 US presidential election clearly demonstrated how very important elections can be won by remarkably small numbers of votes. For older Americans who vote in larger numbers than any other age group there are significant barriers in exercising their right to vote. Jason Karlawish, MD, associate professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, recommends that to help break down the logistical and geographical voting barriers many older Americans face, the United States must develop a model for mobile polling.

Neglecting the Voting Rights of Seniors

Election officials, said Karlawish, have paid limited attention to two key issues: assuring that residents of long-term care facilities have access to the ballot, and preventing unscrupulous persons from exploiting their vote. Twenty-nine states do not have voting guidelines to accommodate residents of long-term care facilities. An increasingly larger number of Americans with cognitive impairments ranging from mild to severe live in long-term care settings such as assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

"Elderly voters especially elderly voters who live in long-term care settings are at the mercy of others when it comes to exercising their right to vote," said Karlawish. Due to geographical distances, the lack of transportation to polling sites, and the lack of assistance to absentee ballot applications, it is other people who decide whether or not older Americans with issues of mobility can vote.

Karlawish is developing guidelines for mobile polling model, similar to programs used in Australia and Canada, to improve access to voting for older Americans. In this model, election officials or equivalent groups would visit long-term facilities in their district to help interested people register, directly distribute ballots to long-term facility residents, assist with voting, collect ballots and ensure the ballots are returned safely to a polling site.

Dr. Karlawish is available to discuss recent research and guidelines to help reduce voting barriers for older Americans in long-term care facilities.

About the Institute on Aging at the University of Pennsylvania

The mission of the IOA is to improve the health of the elderly by increasing the quality and quantity of clinical and basic research as well as educational programs focusing on normal aging and age-related diseases at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and across the entire Penn campus.

PENN Medicine is a $3.5 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is currently ranked #4 in the nation in U.S.News & World Report's survey of top research-oriented medical schools; and, according to most recent data from the National Institutes of Health, received over $379 million in NIH research funds in the 2006 fiscal year. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System includes three hospitals its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, rated one of the nation's top 10 "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S.News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home care and hospice.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
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Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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