Conference to Explore Voting in Long-Term Care Facilities in Virginia

October 2, 2008

The University of Virginia's Institute on Aging will host a conference focusing on the problems and issues of voting by seniors in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. The conference will be held Friday, Oct. 10, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Caplin Pavilion at the Law School.

Professor Richard Bonnie is the lead organizer for the conference.

The conference will bring together leaders from several fields to review the challenges faced by individuals with cognitive and physical impairments and to recommend policies and procedures that can maximize voter participation while avoiding fraud and exploitation of this vulnerable population. The goal: find a way to facilitate voting rights for the elderly in Virginia that can serve as a national model for improving the voting system.

Conference panelists will address such questions as: How does voting occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Virginia? What sorts of policies are in place to assist elderly residents in registering to vote and casting a ballot? What kinds of procedures guard against voting fraud? What changes would improve voting by people in long-term care?

Organizers say these issues are critical to maximizing enfranchisement of the growing senior population. Individuals with cognitive and physical impairment who want to vote may need help with reminders and assistance in getting to a polling booth or ordering an absentee ballot. When this occurs in the institutional setting of long-term care, the approach taken by the facility can affect these residents.

To register for the conference, call 434-243-5695 or e-mail

Conference Program

The morning panels will take up the question of where we are now, exploring what occurs when it comes to voting in long-term care facilities in Virginia and elsewhere. What sorts of policies and procedures currently exist to help elderly residents register and vote? What does state and federal law require? And what laws and policies bear on voting by individuals with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia?

After lunch, afternoon panels will take up two related questions: Where do we want to be in terms of voting policy, and how do we get there? What would be a better system for registration and voting by people in long-term care facilities? What sorts of specific legislative and administrative changes would facilitate registration and voting? What kinds of policies and procedures should be adopted in Virginia by long-term care facilities? By electoral agencies? By the General Assembly? And in particular, how should the issue of voting by people with dementia be addressed?

The conference will be videotaped and archived at the conference Web site, The site will also be a source of papers and other material submitted by conference participants, and host a blog-like discussion (or series of discussions) by conference attendees. These discussions will help inform a report of the proceedings that will be prepared after the conference.

In advance of the conference, the Institute on Aging plans to distribute some or all of the long-term-care-related recommendations that emerged from a symposium on this subject in March 2007, and ask conference participants to respond to them, or to consider how they might be applied to long-term care voting in Virginia.

Conference Participants

Richard Bonnie, UVA's Harrison Foundation Professor of Law and Medicine, is the lead organizer. One of the foremost legal experts in mental health law, Bonnie also holds appointments as Hunton & Williams Research Professor, professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral science and director of the UVA Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy. He teaches and writes about criminal law, bioethics, and law and public policy relating to mental health, substance abuse, aging and public health.

Other key organizers include:

  • Paul Freedman, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
  • Thomas Guterbock, Center for Survey Research, University of Virginia
  • Donna Hearn, University of Virginia Institute on Aging

The panelists represent leaders from government, higher education and service organizations, including:

  • Rosanna Bencoach, policy manager, Virginia State Board of Elections
  • Steven T. DeKosky, M.D., vice president and dean, James Carroll Flippin Professor of Medical Science, University of Virginia, and member of the National Board of Directors, Alzheimer's Association
  • W. Heywood Fralin, rector, University of Virginia, and chief executive officer, Medical Facilities of America
  • Jason Karlawish, associate professor of medicine and director, Alzheimer's Disease Center's Education and Information Transfer Core, University of Pennsylvania
  • Naomi Karp, senior policy adviser, AARP
  • Charles Sabatino, director, American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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