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Older Voters Face Extra Challenges In A Pandemic Election

Felicita Subhita, left, reviews her ballot as she uses curbside voting services during early voting Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in San Diego.
Gregory Bull
Felicita Subhita, left, reviews her ballot as she uses curbside voting services during early voting Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in San Diego.

There are only a few days left before Election Day, and while millions of Ohioans have already cast their ballots early in-person or by mail, that process is more difficult for a certain segment of voters.

Many elderly residents are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, especially if they have pre-existing conditions. Pair that with increased difficulty getting around, and nursing homes no longer acting as polling places, and the group is facing more challenges than ever this election.

“Some people with disabilities require assistance with receiving that absentee ballot, filling it out and sending it back to the board of elections,” says Kevin Truitt, legal advocacy director for Disability Rights Ohio.

Ohio law allows for those people to request two election officials personally deliver the absentee ballot, help them complete it and return it to the county election board for them.

“That process that historically has worked pretty well for people, it’s more complicated now because of the pandemic,” Truitt says. “Especially people in nursing facilities, having people come in and out of these facilities is dangerous.”

Nursing facilities are required to let those pollworkers in, but Truitt says there’s a balance to be struck when it comes to the potential health risk to older, more at-risk populations.

For voters who wait until Election Day, this year Ohio's polling places will offer curbside service for those who don't feel comfortable entering the building. Instead, poll workers will help voters fill out a ballot from their car.

Truitt says that they haven’t heard of many issues so far, but they’re staying vigilant.

“There are close to a thousand nursing homes in Ohio, so this is a lot of voters across the state," Truitt says. "We’re hopeful the process is going smoothly, but it’s hard to know at this point."

In the meantime, he and his colleagues will be a phone call away for any voters having problems. The Disability Rights Ohio legal hotline can be reached available at 614-466-7264 or 1-800-282-9181, and the organization will operate a voter hotline on Election Day from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. at the same number.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.