The American Bar Association and the Penn Memory Center have prepared a guide to help you in assisting individuals with cognitive impairment through the voting process. There can be challenges in communication, which make it difficult to help the person cast an election ballot.
This guide offers techniques and tips to improve communication (consistent with election laws) with a person who has cognitive impairment. You may find these techniques especially helpful when interacting with someone diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or other brain illnesses and disorders such as stroke or head injury. A summary is presented below, but you can find the full guide here.
The right to vote is available to all citizens, whether they have cognitive impairment or not. It is not your job to evaluate if a person has the capacity to vote; only the Court can do that. A medical diagnosis does not disqualify someone from voting. In many cases, people with cognitive impairment are able to vote. Everyone who wants to vote should be given the opportunity to vote.
You can simply ask the individual if he wants to vote, and if the answer is yes, you can offer assistance with registering, ordering, or completing the ballot. If a person can voice his desire to vote, he can also choose among the ballot selections. Your opinion on the person's vote or rationale is not relevant. It is only important that you provide support to the individual, allow him to vote, and respect his preferences.
If the person does not have capacity to vote, it will become clear in the process. The individual will simply not be able to make or communicate a choice on the ballot, even with your assistance.
You may face a variety of communication challenges. The person with cognitive impairment may face the following struggles:
Difficulty finding the right words
Easily losing a train of thought
Difficulty organizing words logically
Speaking less often
Relying more on gestures than speaking
While these difficulties may present a challenge, you can overcome them by implementing these techniques.
Listen carefully. If the person's speech is hard to understand, give the person time to speak and do not finish his sentence. Repeat information and ask questions to make sure you understood what he said.
Speak clearly. When asking questions, ask one at a time in a clear and calm voice. Do not use "baby talk," but use your normal tone of voice. You may need to speak a little slower. Use short and simple sentence. Give the person time to process what you've said.
Capture attention. Before speaking, get the person's attention so that he can see you clearly. Eye contact will help the person focus on you and what you are saying.
Be respectful. Do not speak down or judgmentally to the person with cognitive impairment. Do not treat him like a child. You may need to position yourself to be at eye level with the person to show respect.
Choose good timing. Some times of day may be better than others for the person with cognitive impairment. Choose a time to discuss voting when the person is not tired. Choose a place to discuss voting that is free from distractions, if possible.
Be aware of your body language. We all read body language, including the person with cognitive impairment. Agitated movements and tense facial expressions can make communicating more difficult so be calm and still while you communicate.
Do your best to understand. If you do not understand what is being said, ask the person to point, gesture, or repeat. Make genuine efforts to understand the individual.
The remainder of the guide presents ten different scenarios and suggested solutions when assisting a voter. You can read them in full here.
Source: Assisting Cognitively Impaired Individuals with Voting: A Quick Guide prepared by the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging and the Penn Memory Center