By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
FREDERICKSBURG — A Virginia election-watch organization has sent letters to some 2,000 nursing homes warning that aggressive voter-registration groups may be “harvesting votes” of vulnerable seniors.
But in the absence of formal complaints to the State Board of Elections, skeptics say the Virginia Voters Alliance is merely grandstanding or, worse, trampling First Amendment rights.
“Facilities such as yours are often targeted under the guise of ‘helping’ senior citizens, while really having the intention of stealing the vote,” wrote VVA president Reagan George.
George, a tea party activist based in Chantilly, said a “representative sampling of techniques” includes:
- Registering patients without their knowledge or against their will.
- Registrations resulting in the person being registered multiple times with the state, or possibly two different states.
- Registering patients who have been judged incompetent.
- Applying for an absentee ballot either without the person’s knowledge or against the person’s will and inserting their organization as a “voting assistant.”
- Submitting a prepared ballot to a patient for signature, forging the person’s signature or signing for recently deceased patients.
Heeding such warnings, some nursing homes have blocked voter-registration groups from their premises.
Crystal Aubrey, activity director at Greenfield Senior Living in Strasburg, said she received a request from an outside group the same day she received George’s letter.
“I decided we would do (voter registration) ourselves,” Aubrey told Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau. “We got the applications from the (Shenandoah) county registrar.”
Mary Self, activity director at Morningside Assisted Living in Newport News, said she also opted to do the job in-house “because of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and to protect their privacy rights.”
“I had my Social Security number stolen a few years ago, and I didn’t want that happen here,” Self said.
“Especially the way this election is going, I wanted to prevent any trouble,” Self said. “Why invite it?”
Self would not discuss how patients judged by a court to be mentally incompetent would be handled.
“They’re in a separate unit. The executive director would have to decide,” she said.
George declined to cite specific instances of vote fraud at nursing homes, and Nikki Sheridan, confidential policy adviser to the State Board of Elections, said she was not aware of any such complaints.
A spokeswoman for AARP Virginia said her organization also was unaware.
“We haven’t heard anything about the problem,” Ginger Thompson McDaniel said from Richmond.
The Virginia Health Care Association could not name any incidents at its 300 member facilities. But Steve Morrisette, president of the VHCA, said, “It’s not necessary for outside groups to be involved” in helping nursing-home patients register or vote.
“Most administrators are perfectly capable of doing this,” he told Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau.
Still, in the run-up to a hotly contested fall election, partisan and nonpartisan groups are clamoring for votes wherever they can find them.
The deadline to register to vote in Virginia is Oct. 15, while Oct. 30 is the last day to obtain an absentee ballot by mail.
Paula Bedner, whose mother resides at Sunrise Senior Living at Fair Oaks, complained to facility managers when an arm of the Obama campaign, Organizing For America, registered voters there recently.
“You have patients here who aren’t playing with a full deck and, obviously, this facility had not done its due diligence,” said Bedner, a lawyer from California. “They were preying on seniors and putting (patients’) votes at risk.”
Carole Herman, president of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Foundation Aiding the Elderly, said she opposes any outside groups “harvesting” votes at nursing homes.
“It’s one thing to be out in front of a grocery store or library. People in nursing homes are there because they’re not able to take care of themselves,” Herman said from her Sacramento office. “Some are so drugged out or have dementia — how do they even know who to vote for?”
Herman alleged that union operatives working at the behest of the Democratic Party have been signing up voters at California nursing homes since 1988. But she said her complaints have been “brushed off” by state officials.
“This should be illegal,” Herman said of voter drives at care facilities.
In his letter to nursing-home administrators, George offered, “If you need assistance in your efforts to avoid the occurrence of inappropriate voter registration or absentee voter practices in your facility, the Virginia Voters Alliance can work with you, at no cost.
“We can help you ensure that the registration and absentee voting process is conducted correctly by providing one of our nonpartisan volunteers to serve as a witness to the registration and absentee voting processes at your facility.”
But Christian Adams of the Texas-based election-watch group, True the Vote, advised George & Co. to tread carefully.
“Policing voter registration is a waste of time, and probably violates the First Amendment,” opined Adams, who also is a lawyer.
“You can’t put limits on (voter) registration. It’s a non-issue,” he asserted.
Rosemarie Merritt, director of activities at Heritage Hall in Nassawadox, said she would try to accommodate all sides after the NAACP asked to come in and sign up voters.
Ideally, she said, representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties would be on hand.
“After reading (George’s) letter, I thought balance was important. The best I can do is have everybody here,” said Merritt, who invited the Virginia Voters Alliance and the NAACP to make a joint appearance at her facility this week.
Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or (571) 319-9824.
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