By J. Taylor Basker
New York State has a long list of “Your Rights as a Nursing Home Resident in New York State and Nursing Home Responsibilities” on the Dept. of Health website, yet your right to vote is not included. You have a right to dignity and respect, quality care and treatment, but nothing is mentioned about your right to vote as an American citizen. There are 17 Medicaid/Medicare Nursing Homes and Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) in Manhattan alone with approximately 14,730 residents.
Finding out how residents can vote in these facilities is quite a challenge. These include both private and public institutions, as well as some run by the US Veteran’s Administration,
Several calls to the Upper East Side Rehabilitation Center on E. 79th Street led to mixed and contradictory information. One person said they provide absentee ballots for all the residents; another said they would only request an absentee ballot if the resident requested it and would still be present in the facility on November 3. This could be something difficult to predict in advance, since it depends on medical conditions and doctor’s decisions. When I mentioned I had already requested an absentee ballot for my 101 year old friend from Westbeth, Edith Stephen, they told me to just bring it to her. However, nothing was mentioned as to whether they would mail the ballots in for the residents.
I called Village Care in Greenwich Village on Houston Street and Bob Goldman of their Communication Dept. was supposed to return my call to answer my inquiries about residents’ voting, but I never heard from him.
Located in the East Village, New Gouverneur Hospital/SNF told me to contact their social worker, and I left a message. She also has not returned my call.
The Veterans Administration at first did not respond to my inquiries, directing me to a phone number that turned out to be a restaurant. I had heard they give long term residents an absentee ballot, but the process was unclear. However, Michael Drake from the VA returned my call and provided important information. In October, 2019 the VA issued a voting directive for their facilities, VHA Directive 1060, that details their responsibilities and policies to insure that veterans can vote from a VA residence. There is training, management of records, and a chain of authority responsible for the process. I also received a helpful phone call from Ms. Alexander, the Social Worker assigned to my 100 year old friend, Salvador Peter Tomas, in the VA facility in St. Albans, Queens. She reassured me that the VA staff do their utmost to ensure voting by the veterans due to the “deep respect and gratitude” the staff has towards them, who served our country. This was good to hear.
Yet when I called the NYC Board of Elections to ask them about BOE policies for nursing homes and hospitals, they told me to email a Valerie Vazquez with my questions, but I never heard back from her.
Time is running out. If nursing home or hospital residents need to register to vote, or change their address, there are only 5 days to do this from Oct. 4–Oct. 9. Early voting begins Oct. 24–November 1st, so even if a resident is discharged before Nov. 3 they should still send in an absentee vote from the facility in October. Many residents, when they return home are still in recuperation, and may not be able to vote in person, so mailing their absentee ballot while they are still in a facility is very important. I called the Board of Elections 1-866-868 VOTE hotline to find out the last day to request an absentee ballot, but was told there were 23 calls before mine! Calling the Albany office placed me on hold for over ½ hour with no answer.
The NYC Board of Election’s website does not mention the last day to request an absentee ballot and when I finally reached the Manhattan office the gentleman answering the phone was not sure, and transferred me to another phone that never answered. However, it does provide information on how to obtain one:
Email application to:
* Applications must be saved in a (.pdf) format to avoid delays *
Fax application to 212-487-5349
Mail application to local borough office
I believe these residences resist providing information to the press due to their inefficient or non-existing voting policies. Absentee voting is now a politically hot issue, and one wonders if some administrations of these facilities are reluctant to provide absentee ballots to their residents. And the Board of Elections also does not provide information on how these residents can vote. Do they need to change their addresses and re-register? Who will distribute these ballots safely if they are sent to a residence? Who collects and mails them? Are there election officials provided for these sensitive tasks, or is it left up to the nursing home staffs? What can happen if they change their residence?
The danger is losing their homes when they register to vote from a facility. Arthur Schwartz, tenant and election lawyer, warns that “One of the biggest problems that long-term nursing home residents face is the fact that they have lost their residence. Even if rent is paid, landlords will assert that the nursing home is the person’s primary residence and that they can be evicted. They do this because most long-term nursing home residents live in rent controlled, or fairly low-rent rent stabilized apartments, and the landlords want them back. In order to vote, the long-term nursing home resident must re-register (this is not true if their old residence stays in place and someone picks up their mail.) Registering and then arranging for receipt of an absentee ballot (absentee ballot applications have already been sent to most voters) requires assistance. Family members and friends have to help, since all of this requires filling out forms, receiving mail, and sending mail. Those reading this article who do not have family around to assist are urged to call their local elected officials, whose staff can be of assistance; or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 212-285-1400.” Schwartz is the Greenwich Village Democratic District Leader and candidate for NY City Council. I have not heard back yet from Jerry Nadler or Corey Johnson.
If you have a friend or relative in a hospital or residential facility, be sure they request an absentee ballot as soon as possible. The residence’s Social Worker should be helpful, but good luck reaching them. You can order a ballot for them if you know their name, official address and date of birth, and can get access to their mail to retrieve the ballot and get it to them. Ballots should be sent in immediately, as soon as they are received. COVID has placed more obstacles in the voting process for the elderly and infirm. Some residences have banned in-person visits, or even mail to their residents. As soon as a COVID case appears, the residence goes into lockdown and it is impossible to visit or bring things to residents. I received a call from the Upper East Side Rehabilitation Center stating that any visitor now needs to have a COVID Test within 7 days mandated by the NYS Dept. of Health. This will make it more difficult for residents to have visitors and receive assistance in the voting process. Absentee ballots will be absent for many. At present it appears that voting if you are old or sick is a train wreck in NYC. Imagine what it is like in other states!