Can a Person with Cognitive Impairment or Dementia Vote?

Voting rights in the United States have transformed over the years, granting larger populations of the American people to be heard.

That 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States allowed African American men to vote, the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote, and the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

Voting in the United States is a fundamental democratic liberty. What if you have cognitive impairment or dementia, can you vote?

The answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

The Right to Vote

According to the Assisting Cognitively Impaired Individuals with Voting: Quick Guide, prepared by the American Bar Association and the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Memory Center:

A medical diagnosis does not disqualify a person from voting. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, or other cause of cognitive impairment does not disqualify a person from being eligible to vote. In fact, many persons diagnosed with a condition that involves cognitive impairment are able to cast a ballot.

“Alzheimer’s disease is progressive, and it evolves over many years. A person in the early stages, and even into the more moderate stages, still has the capacity to vote,” Beth Kallmyer, MSW, vice president of care and support for the Alzheimer Association, said in an interview with JAMA. “They might need a little bit of assistance, but there are voting laws to support that.”

Kallmyer is correct; federal laws protect the right of those with disabilities to vote. For instance,

  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires state and local governments to ensure people with disabilities have a full and equal opportunity to vote.
  • Voters with disabilities are allowed to receive assistance from a person of the voter’s choice, according to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • Accessible polling places are required for the elderly and people with disabilities under the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984.

And with more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, that’s a lot of voices that can make a difference. It’s essential to ask those living with dementia if they want to vote, and if they say, “Yes,” they should be afforded the access and opportunity to do so. They may need extra assistance in casting their ballot, but they have the right to vote.

Voting is also great opportunity for those living with dementia to be acknowledged as a person, feel part of society, and contribute to the future of our nation.

Make the Vote Count

The first step in voting is to ensure the person is registered. Each state has different deadlines, be sure to visit vote.gov to find out the online, mail-in, and in-person registration deadlines for where you live.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, some states have made voting safer by mailing pre-paid postage ballots to registered voters. If you vote by mail, follow the instructions carefully, then complete the ballot you received and send it or drop it in a local ballot collection box as soon as possible.

Voting Tips for Those with Cognitive Impairment or Dementia

Some tips to make voting easier for those with cognitive impairment or dementia:

  • Ask if the person if they would like or need assistance to vote. It is up to the person to decide who is to assist them in voting. They may wish to vote privately.
  • If the person with an impairment is in a nursing facility, tell the administrative staff that he/she wants to vote and assist them.
  • If communication is challenging for the person, help them read the ballot and mark their preferences.
  • If the person asks questions about a candidate’s background or positions, you can only convey the information written on the ballot. No additional information should be communicated as it could bias the voting process. The person with impairment should be free to vote for whomever they wish.
  • Mark deadlines on a calendar and set phone alerts to serve as reminders. Register to vote and/or vote as soon as possible to avoid forgetting or missing deadlines.
  • Offer to drive the person to the voting place or to post their mail-in ballot.

For more helpful voting tips, visit the quick guide.

Make your voice heard. To register to vote, visit vote.gov.


References

Facts and Figures. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures

Assisting Cognitively Impaired Individuals with Voting: A Quick Guide. (n.d.). the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging and the Penn Memory Center. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/law_aging/2020-voting-guide.pdf

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm

Rubin, R. (2020, September 30). Helping People With Dementia Exercise Their Right to Vote.  JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.18964