Monday, June 8
BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz released the results from the state's mobile polling pilot program designed to bring the ballot to the state's seniors.

Officials developed the initial voting project for the 2008 general election to bring bipartisan, trained election workers to residential care facilities to permit eligible seniors to register and vote.

"Vermont participated in this study of mobile polling because those of us who administer elections need to be prepared for the challenges of meeting the needs of an aging population," said Markowitz in a statement.

The study was done in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania's Departments of Medicine and Medical Ethics as well as the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging.

Twenty-four facilities took part in the study -- 15 of which voted as usual and nine conducted the mobile polling. Participants were surveyed afterwards to assess the benefits and challenges.

According to the overall findings, the mobile polling did not affect turnout, however provided substantial benefits to maximize voter rights and cut down on voter fraud and manipulation concerns.

Mobile polling is beneficial to nursing home staff and residents and is an experience closer to actually heading to the polls than absentee balloting. Research also found long-term care residents would often use absentee ballots, but the accessibility did increase because they did not have to worry about transportation or arranging for the absentee ballots.

"The results of this study are compelling and convincing because we designed this project to compare mobile polling to usual voting using nursing homes that were well matched in terms of the number of residents and the severest of their cognitive disabilities," said Jason Karlawish, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement.

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates the number of elderly Americans will nearly double in the next 25 years, meaning election officials need to adopt to the increasing numbers of aging voters.

States need to explore new methods of reaching voters who are in nursing facilities to ensure they have an opportunity to vote without the threat of intimidation or fraud, said Markowitz. "Mobile polling is a great way to accomplish this."

Some of the findings of the Vermont pilot program included:

* Mobile polling protects the residents' right to vote, having less of a threat of fraud or coercion.

* There was less pressure on staff members to assist the cognitively impaired in the voting process because of the election officials present with the mobile stations.

* Implementing the mobile polling stations presented a challenge because election workers said it took time setting up the mobile locations even if the polling itself only took a couple hours.

* Training attendants for the stations also is time-consuming when clerks are already preparing for elections and absentee ballots.

Prior to the 2008 election, the American Bar Association adopted a policy to push states towards improving access for elderly voters in long-term care facilities.

ABA director Charles Sabatino said Vermont is on the top of the list for states showing progress in acknowledging this issue. Roughly half the states have limited outreach policies to nursing homes, but never a serious study of mobile polling as a best practice, he said.

There are as many as 16 million Americans with some form of disability who are eligible to vote, in addition to the millions of seniors presently in nursing facilities who are not casting a ballot.