Should I vote for Mom with Dementia?
November 1, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

My mom has dementia. For the last 5-6 years, I've helped her fill in her mail-in ballot. We've talked about her choices (to the best of her ability). This is the first election where I feel that she can't participate in choosing who to vote for. I've brought it up with her, but she isn't engaging at all. However, I know how she would want to vote. Voting in every election since she became old enough has been a tremendous point of pride for her. She's always been an engaged and active participant: walking precincts, helping with mailings, going to candidate forums (until the dementia really took hold). Part of me feels like I would be honoring the person she was by casting this ballot (probably the last one), but part of me feels that by casting her ballot without any participation from her, I'm committing fraud. What say you, wise Mefites?
posted by agatha_magatha to Law & Government (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It is only technically fraud - in reality, if she didn't have dementia it wouldn't be fraud at all. I would honour her wishes and do it for her.
posted by Dragonness at 11:21 AM on November 1, 2013

I'd say no. It's one thing to discuss it with her, but if she can't even do that then you aren't really following her wishes, you are just doing what you think she'd want. Respect the fact that she can't participate any more.

Sorry about your mother.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:21 AM on November 1, 2013 [18 favorites]

I would stop. If she's unable to make decisions for herself like that, then it's not her vote.
posted by xingcat at 11:21 AM on November 1, 2013 [15 favorites]

I am not a lawyer, but it does sound to me like this would be fraud.

Does your mother's mail-in ballot require a signature? If so, who is going to sign it? In Washington state, mail-in ballots include an oath that must be signed under penalty of perjury. If the voter is unable to sign their own name, they must still make a mark in the signature area and have the mark witnessed and signed by two people. The ballot says "it is illegal to forge a signature or cast another person's ballot."
posted by mbrubeck at 11:26 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd try to talk about it on one of her better days, and fill it in on her behalf as a gesture, but make this year's the last one.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:26 AM on November 1, 2013

Best answer: I think you would better honor her civic participation by preserving the sanctity of the vote and not sending in that ballot.

Best of luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:28 AM on November 1, 2013 [21 favorites]

Best answer: Casting the vote without any participation from her would not be assisting her to vote but rather, as you suspect, voter fraud. Given her past respect for the process, I'm sure you there are better ways you can honor her and have fond memories of the person she was without doing this.
posted by ravioli at 11:29 AM on November 1, 2013

What is your mother's legal status? Has she been declared "incompetent"? Are you responsible for her affairs?
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's against the law. Don't do it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:34 AM on November 1, 2013

This guide to voting rights of people with mental disabilities is very informative and includes differences in state laws for each state. In some states, a person under guardianship cannot vote. The section on assistance includes (emphasis mine):
A helper must respect the voter’s choices and may not substitute his or her own choices for the voter’s. Nor can the helper make assumptions about how the person wants to vote. If the helper cannot reliably determine the voter’s intent, he or she cannot cast a vote for that person… If your helper marks a ballot for you, it must be for the choices you have expressed, not the helper’s.
The section on voter fraud includes:
Concerns about caregivers or others substituting their own judgment and decisionmaking when they help a person with a disability vote, rather than following the expressed wishes of the person with a disability. Often people do not realize that this is improper even if the person’s prior voting history and views appear to shed light on how the person might wish to vote. Votes must be based on choices actually communicated by the person whose vote is being cast.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:37 AM on November 1, 2013 [14 favorites]

I think you honor the person your mother was by always voting yourself, even if you're not as inherently political.

Perhaps think about how your mother might look at this situation herself if she didn't have dementia. Would she have supported children voting "for" parents in her position? Or would she have preferred that the results be democracy within the rules - a fair win?
posted by skermunkil at 11:44 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

this is an excellent and difficult question, and it might get down to mbrubeck's question about the signature. in oregon, we sign our ballot envelopes before mailing them back in. can she still sign her own name? i would NOT forge my mom's signature, even if she were still alive and the election looked like it might be decided by one vote...

if i were going to ask a question like this on the internet, i would have had the mods anonymize it first.
posted by bruce at 11:44 AM on November 1, 2013

I'd say no, but do go and vote how YOU'd vote in her honor.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:52 AM on November 1, 2013

I'm sorry about your mom, and I'm sorry that you're going through this.
No, you cannot in good conscience cast her ballot for her this year.
Honor your mother's long political participation by registering people to vote, or volunteering at a polling place, or something along those lines.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:53 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's lovely that you want to do something for your mom, and I'm sorry that you're in a position to have to make this kind of choice.

How sure are you that this would be honouring her wishes? If she was that engaged in elections and being an educated voter casting educated votes, she'd probably not be pleased if someone else voted on her behalf, even if they felt like they knew what she would like.

If she was a straight ticket party line voter, you might know what she really wanted, so morally it would be less suspect, but legally it would still be voter fraud.

I agree with others that there are better ways to honour her legacy. Being an educated voter yourself. Helping to register people to vote. Acting as a representative in a polling place. Driving people to polls.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:13 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Admiral Haddock and the rest of you who said it would be better to honor her by upholding the voting laws are right. I guess I knew it would be wrong, since I waited and didn't send in her ballot when I sent mine.

It has been so hard to see all the things that made Mom who she was fall away that I just didn't want to let go of this one thing. I mostly do okay with accepting the mom I have now and enjoying the time I get to spend with her...but I miss my mom sometimes.
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:51 PM on November 1, 2013 [32 favorites]

I'm going to take the somewhat contrarian view and say that I think it's morally okay for you to get her vote cast, one last time, this year.

Whether you should...I think that it depends enormously on her personality. Would she be comforted to know that you took care of this for her? In light of how the boundary-crossing intimacies in taking care of a parent with dementia, I have no issue justifying this one.
posted by desuetude at 1:10 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If she is legally entitled to vote, who are you to take that away from her, or judge whether or not she is of sound mind?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:57 PM on November 1, 2013

The OP specifically states: This is the first election where I feel that she can't participate in choosing who to vote for. I've brought it up with her, but she isn't engaging at all.

It's not that her mother wants to vote and OP's denying that, it's that her mother is unable or unwilling to articulate who she would like to vote for, which means if the OP filled out the ballot, the OP would have to guess (however educated that guess might be) what her mother wanted.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:59 PM on November 1, 2013

If she wants to vote, let her. If she doesn't want to or doesn't bring it up, I wouldn't press it. Upsetting your mom at this point in her life isn't going to accomplish anything other than possibly making her angry with you, which neither of you want or need.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2013

This is an area where American law and custom have been on both sides of the fence, coming down in these modern days to various prohibitions about assisting others with casting ballots. I wouldn't, were I you, but I do note, that as late as the 1960s, it was legal, and even expected, in certain counties in Georgia, for widows whose husbands had died in the 6 months preceding an election, to vote the dead husband's final ballot with full knowledge and approval of the local authorities, on grounds he'd probably paid his yearly taxes already, and his widow would have known his wishes.
posted by paulsc at 3:52 PM on November 1, 2013

Unless you meant "should I vote for her on my own ballet entry," I think you know the difference between right and wrong, and you should act accordingly.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:22 PM on November 1, 2013

My dad has dementia, and isn't legally competent to vote. He still wants to vote, however, since he's been doing it for over sixty years. I let him fill out the ballot and then I just don't mail it in. Deceptive, I know, but it keeps him happy. (And last time I peeked at a ballot he marked up it didn't make much sense - he just seemed to vote at random, and I know this is the dementia at work because he's always been a life-long, hard-core Democrat.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:17 AM on November 2, 2013

I understand why it would be morally and civically wrong to vote for her, but what if you used that vote towards a candidate who spoke strongly about mental health issues (if such a candidate exists)?
posted by alon at 9:33 AM on November 2, 2013

This is wrong, at least as suggested, and no, I can't accept a "greater good" sort of justification.

My mother is an election judge and goes out with someone from the opposite party (yes, there are more than two, but they have to nominate judges) to assist people in nursing homes. The two of them have a routine they use to determine if someone is still "with it" enough to express their wishes clearly either by party identification or candidate (actually, I think straight-ticket votes were eliminated recently). They're old friends outside of politics so they work well together and don't have a problem being non-partisan, so to speak. But the basic litmus test here -- the first being that the nursing home has supplied a list of residents wishing to vote by absentee ballot -- is whether they can express a clear choice, when presented with the names of the candidates. The only information they give other than name is "this is the incumbent" or "this is the D/R".

This may be colored by my own father's recent death from dementia, but I think it's clear that everyone goes eventually, and that time isn't necessarily when all their life processes terminate.
posted by dhartung at 1:58 AM on November 3, 2013

Response by poster: I have destroyed her ballot. Thank you all for your thoughtful answers.
posted by agatha_magatha at 7:45 AM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older Math for CSI   |   Is high-synagogue a thing? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.