By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
LOUISA — The daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient is fighting mad that a Henrico County rehabilitation facility cast her mother’s vote in the face of warnings that the elderly woman “doesn’t know what she is doing.”
Janet Benedict, of Louisa, told Watchdog.org she was stunned when the activities director at Lexington Court informed her that 81-year-old Dorene Hagen had voted via absentee ballot.
“(Lexington) had called me on Oct. 12 and asked about my mother’s county of residence and whether she had voted in the last election,” Benedict related.
“I told them, ‘You know she has Alzheimer’s, right?’ I’m not worried about her voting; I’m worried about her rehabilitation. I thought that was the end of the conversation.”
But at a care meeting Oct. 24, Benedict was informed by Lexington staffers that her mother had, in fact, voted.
When an argument ensued, Hagen chimed in: “I don’t need to vote.”
“She didn’t even know she had voted. She hasn’t voted since 1998,” said Benedict, who has full power of attorney for her mother.
Benedict says that neither she nor her mother knows who Hagen voted for.
“I’d like to know how many other people this has happened with.”
The Louisa County Sheriff’s Department and the State Board of Elections are investigating the incident.
“These types of allegations are distressing and SBE will work with local law enforcement officials to cooperate in the investigation of this matter,” Justin Riemer, deputy secretary of the SBE, said in a statement late Monday.
Lexington Court’s administrator, Theric Brown, called the situation “unfortunate,” but said, “State law requires nursing homes to assist residents in exercising their rights unless the patient is judged mentally incompetent by a judge. The law does not allow a relative to stop that.”
State Sen. Tom Garrett, the commonwealth attorney for Louisa County, said the signs are troubling.
“We know there’s a problem, we just don’t know how big it is,” said Garrett, who successfully prosecuted election-fraud cases after the 2008 election.
The practice of “harvesting votes” at nursing homes and care facilities was the subject of an Oct. 9 Watchdog.org article.
Virginia law does not restrict what election assistance nursing-home staffers can offer their clients.
“There is no policy at the Board of Nursing regulating whether they could or could not facilitate voting,” Diane Powers, a spokeswoman at the state Department of Health Professions, said Monday.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or (571) 319-9824.