Written by Kerri Gallagher, development assistant for Aging Ahead (formally Mid-East Area Agency on Aging)
While celebrating Older Americans Month, we should think about making strides to preserve older citizens’ right to vote by readily providing voting information, absentee ballots, and transportation to polling sites.
Historically, older voters have the highest turnout rates. According to the US Census, 84.2% of Missouri adults over the age of 65 are registered to vote, and 74.9% voted in the 2016 election. Ultimately, older adults comprised 20% of the overall voting population in Missouri. For many individuals who have trouble leaving their homes, maintaining civic engagement through voting can be challenging. Older adults who have been lifelong voters and who are now homebound may find themselves without assistance to support the process of voting.
Issues faced by some older adults include inadequate access to transportation to the polls, polling places that are not accessible (stairs, narrow doorways, lack of handicapped parking spots), difficulty standing or waiting in line, and challenges with mobility, including physical limitations that prevent them from walking long distances. Further, new voter identification laws can create an additional challenge for older adults. For voters who no longer drive or no longer have a current driver’s license, the process for obtaining current photo identification can be challenging. For some, they may also be unclear on what other forms of identification are accepted (e.g., vote registration cards), which may discourage them from voting.
Aging Ahead (formally Mid-East Area Agency on Aging) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support individuals through the journey of aging. At Aging Ahead, we help adults aged 60 and older in St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin, and Jefferson counties maintain their independence through various programs and services. In the summer of 2016, Aging Ahead paired with Silver Haired Legislature (SHL), a non-partisan group of volunteers that advocate for Missouri’s older adults, to create an initiative to assist people who are homebound with exercising their right to vote.
The initiative, called “Your Vote Counts,” was deployed through the Aging Ahead Meals on Wheels program, which has a strong relationship with residents who are homebound in the area. SHL focused on providing older adults with accurate and timely voting information by sending out 2,700 flyers to meal delivery clients that inquired about their interest in receiving voting assistance and information. Drivers and volunteers both distributed and picked up the completed flyers during the mealtime delivery, and the completed surveys were processed. Voting information packets were mailed to clients, which allowed seniors to review registration and voting options. Prior to the project, half of our clients who are homebound were registered voters; as a result of the Your Vote Counts project, 100% of the homebound seniors who requested assistance were successfully registered, with 88% voting by absentee ballot.
Aging Ahead’s vision is to support individuals’ access to opportunities to lead satisfying, productive lives with health, honor, and dignity. By addressing obstacles to being engaged in the voting process for our clients who are homebound, we have supported them in performing their civic duty while in their homes. Feedback from local individuals who benefitted from the initiative highlights its success. In the words of one participant, “My 92-year-old mother and I are so thankful for the information. She has not voted since becoming ill and unable to leave her home. She will now be able to vote again, which has always been so important to her.”
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) has selected the Your Vote Counts project to receive the 2018 Aging Achievement Award, and will be presented to Aging Ahead at the n4a conference this summer. n4a annually identifies and showcases innovative and successful programs to encourage their replication by other agencies. Launched in 2005, the awards program recognizes AAA and Title VI aging programs that exemplify innovation and sound management practices.
On average, 77% of the senior population is made up of active voters, which is the largest percentage compared to all other age brackets. With the older American population dramatically rising each day it is critical now, more than ever, that older Americans continue to vote.
For more information on voter registration, the new Missouri photo voter ID law, and how to receive a free voter ID card, please visit Missouri’s Secretary of State website. If you are an older resident needing assistance, or know someone who does, you can find the Area Agency on Aging that serves your area on the n4a website.