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September 14, 2004
Going After The Senility Vote

The Washington Post takes a look at a little-discussed phenomenon and explores the ethical and Constitutional implications of the senile voter. Shankar Vendantam uses some disturbing anecdotal evidence to make the point that, in a population skewing older, more voters may simply be incapable of casting a ballot and are vulnerable to manipulation:

Florida neurologist Marc Swerdloff was taken aback when one of his patients with advanced dementia voted in the 2000 presidential election. The man thought it was 1942 and Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. The patient's wife revealed that she had escorted her husband into the booth.

"I said 'Did he pick?' and she said 'No, I picked for him,' " Swerdloff said. "I felt bad. She essentially voted twice" in the Florida election, which gave George W. Bush a 537-vote victory and the White House.

Vedantam indulges in some poor structural composition; the patient's wife didn't cause the 537-vote victory by filing a ballot for her husband, but the point is still an interesting one. In a close election, a few hundred votes cast under circumstances such as these could decide a state's electoral votes. While it makes for clever jokes about the quality of the outcome (insert tired Bush-intelligence punchline here), it raises difficult questions about the capability of voters, and government's duty to protect the franchise for all citizens.

With 4.5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer's, and even more suffering from other kinds of dementia, the field is wide open for abuse. Well-meaning family and friends helping Grandma to vote, though, is not the big concern, and Vedantam buries the lede somewhat by focusing on the personal anecdote first. Later on, the article finally mentions what amounts to disgusting exploitation by special-interest groups as they target this population for their wheel-out-the-vote drive:

Germaine L. Odenheimer, a neurologist and geriatrician, recalled seeing activists from the League of Women Voters coming through the VA nursing home in Gainesville, Fla., and registering residents to vote. "A large portion of the residents were demented," said Odenheimer, who now works at the University of Oklahoma. She said she asked activists from the nonpartisan group how they judged which patients were mentally competent. "I never had a satisfactory answer," she said. ...

In California, for example, Democrats are suing the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Menlo Park for preventing activists from talking to residents and homeless veterans. Lawyer Scott Rafferty, a member of presidential candidate John F. Kerry's steering committee, said he was turned away on the grounds that residents have dementia.

Rafferty said that most of the residents were of sound mind -- and that most were Democrats. He charged the Bush administration with suppressing Democratic turnout. The Department of Veterans Affairs said it was protecting patients and was required by law to keep out partisan activity.

Although the efforts are limited to left-leaning groups such as the League of Women Voters and the Democrats now, that will change if this continues to go unnoticed. It's one thing for the infirm to maintain their eligibility and their families to assist them in the manner in which they honestly feel the patient would choose. Having political groups descend on these patients like vultures on a dying beast should disgust anyone with a modicum of decency.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 14, 2004 5:52 AM

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» Should We Care About the Alzheimer's Vote? from A Stitch in Haste
You can't have it both ways. Either senior citizens are shrewd manipulators or they are incompetent dullards. ...Captain Ed also weighs in. [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2004 8:11 AM

» Voting the Nursing Homes from Our House
Captain Ed pointed us to a WaPo article about how senile seniors are being forced through the motions of voting not only by well intentioned relatives but by liberal activists, especially in group settings like nursing homes. [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2004 11:46 PM

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