Board spells out absentee process in nursing homes

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Associated Press

Posted on March 21, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 21 at 5:05 PM

A state oversight board moved Wednesday to clarify the way absentee ballots are handled in Wisconsin’s nursing homes. The Government Accountability Board said Wednesday that absentee ballots must be delivered in secured containers by designated poll workers. The workers also must ask residents in person to verify whether they intend to vote. The board also said family members may observe the voting process, but cannot provide assistance without a voter’s permission.

They voted 6-0 to clarify those sections in a manual on absentee voting in certain care facilities in the state. The revisions fleshed out some existing policy and rules without changing them, board election specialist David Buerger said.

Kevin Kennedy, the board’s director and general counsel, said the revisions are designed to make absentee voting in nursing homes more transparent and accountable. Kennedy said some poll workers and voting observers complained at the board’s December meeting that many municipal clerks who administer voting procedures don’t understand or follow rules in the manual, making nursing home residents vulnerable to voting fraud.

Under existing rules, nursing home residents can only cast absentee ballots delivered by special voting deputies, who are appointed by the municipal clerk and represent one of two major political parties on the ballot. Residents can’t vote absentee by mail.

Carol Boettcher of Cedarburg said administrators need to carefully explain the absentee voting process to the family members. As evidence of the difficulty some older voters can have, she cited the recent case of an 86-year-old Minnesota woman with Parkinson's disease and dementia who voted absentee in the state’s 2012 primary and then voted in person about a month later. She was charged early this month with voter fraud.

Boettcher said that as a designated observer from a political party, she and poll workers who help residents in voting have been accused of "harvesting" votes.

The board’s election administration plans to make other revisions to the manual’s language before its next meeting in May.

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