Richard Bonnie

Voting by Elderly Persons with Cognitive Impairment: Lessons from Other Democratic Nations

CO-AUTHORS Jason H. Karlawish
McGeorge Law Review


Modern democratic nations have designed electoral systems to achieve two fundamental goals: increasing enfranchisement and voting, and, assuring the integrity of the vote. Efforts to achieve these two objectives can generate a tension between them. As an example, postal voting (also called absentee balloting) has the benefit of allowing persons who cannot easily reach a polling place to vote from remote locations at some time prior to the day of the election. This is especially valuable to persons with disabilities that limit their ability to travel. But postal voting also increases the risk of fraud. Specifically, these ballots can be stolen and either cast by other people or destroyed. The magnitude of this problem can increase in congregate living settings where multiple voters cast absentee ballots. In short, there is a trade-off between an effort to enhance enfranchisement, in this case by postal voting, while at the same time assuring the integrity of the electoral process.

The purpose of this paper is to examine and compare various nations’ electoral systems in order to understand how they address this trade-off. Our focus on voting by elderly persons, particularly those with cognitive impairments, highlights how well the various approaches succeed in simultaneously facilitating voting by vulnerable elderly persons while reducing the opportunities for deception and fraud. 


Richard J. Bonnie & Jason H. Karlawish, Voting by Elderly Persons with Cognitive Impairment: Lessons from Other Democratic Nations, 38 McGeorge Law Review 879-916 (2007).

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