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Housing – Residential Facilities and Voting Rights

Housing – Residential Facilities and Voting Rights

Although the right to vote is fundamental in the United States, state law governs the manner in which this right is exercised. Although almost one-half of the states have passed laws addressing the voting rights of those living in residential facilities, these laws differ significantly. Also, many states have no laws addressing this population, instead relying only on general absentee procedures.

With the baby boomer population aging, an increasing number of America’s elderly suffers from reduced abilities to ambulate, lack of transportation, and diminished capacity, all of which affect the ability to vote in federal, state, and local elections. Residential facilities might include not only nursing homes, but also assisted living facilities, senior citizen housing, hospitals, and mental health facilities.

This article provides an overview of state law relating to the right of those in residential facilities to vote. However, attorneys or local election officials can provide specific information about how the right to vote is affected by living in a residential facility in a particular state.

Procedures Specifically for Facility Residents

Procedures in states with laws designed specifically for this population typically consist of a triggering event, followed by delivery of election ballots and assistance in completing those ballots. The triggering event usually consists of the local election board having received a certain number of absentee ballots from residents in a residential facility. However, the number of registered voters or other events may also trigger voting rights in facilities, and a few states do not require a triggering event.

Once the procedures have been triggered, most states require election officials to deliver absentee ballots to the residential facility and allow residents to receive assistance in executing the ballots. The majority of states allow residents to choose who will assist them, but a minority of states require assistance from election officials only.

General Absentee Procedures Applied to Facility Residents

Over one-half of the states lack procedures specifically for those living in residential facilities. In those states, residents must follow general procedures for absentee voting. In the states that do not require voters to justify their reason for not voting at the designated time and place, voters simply apply for and return their absentee ballots within the time designated by state law. Some states, however, require voters to provide a reason for their request. In those states, the particular absentee ballot requirements would likely affect the ability of residents to vote.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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