I-Team: Locals share concerns about elderly relatives voting

How do you decide if someone is competent to vote?
Posted at 6:51 PM, Nov 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-05 01:16:33-04

MASON, Ohio -- Sharon Bonadies was upset when she saw a photo of her 88-year-old mother with an “I Voted" sticker.

Bonadies’ mother, Esta Cornett, has Alzheimer’s Disease and resides at Cedar Village Nursing Home in Mason.

Bonadies, who serves as her mother’s power of attorney, said she made a request to the nursing home that her mother not engage in voting activities because she doesn’t understand.

"I take it very seriously, and I watch over everything," Bonadies said.

The 9 On Your Side I-Team received a half-dozen emails and phone calls from people in three counties who share the same concerns about their own relatives that Bonadies has about her own elderly mother voting.

Bonadies provided the 9 On Your Side I-team a video that shows Bonadies asking her mother, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?"

Cornett first pauses and then responds "Republican."

One minute later, Bonadies asks Cornett the same question. This time, Bonadies responds, “Democrat."

Bonadies also said her mother doesn’t know who’s running for president.

The activities director for Cedar Village allowed Cornett to cast a vote.

"He said he simply forgot. That's not acceptable," Bonadies said.

Liz Vogel, director of sales and marketing for Cedar Village Nursing Home, tells the I-Team the activities director did, in fact, forget that Bonadies had made requests to the nursing home for her mother to not vote.

Vogel also said the facility serves as a polling place in Warren County for those legally eligible to vote.

"We have to trust the Warren County board of elections to monitor that it's a fair election process," Vogel said.

Although Bonadies said she did not want her mother to vote, Cornett is still legally eligible.

She is a registered Republican in Warren County, but Bonadies also showed the I-Team records that show her mother is listed as an inactive Democrat in Florida where she used to live.

Brian Sleath, director of elections in Warren County, said individuals do not lose their right to vote when they live in a nursing home.

“We have a list of everyone that's registered to vote in that facility, so we can precheck that,” Sleath said. “And if they're already registered, we tell them that all they have to do is fill out an absentee ballot application if they want to vote."

That same process happens in most the more than 1,000 nursing homes in Ohio.

All residents must initiate their will to vote. That also means providing either the last four digits of their Social Security number, or a valid Ohio driver’s license or identification card.

Bonadies said she doesn’t understand how her mother was even able to register to vote in Ohio, or vote on an absentee ballot. Bonadies said her mother doesn’t know her own birthday let alone the last four digits of her Social Security number, and she doesn’t have an Ohio driver’s license or an identification card.

Ohio state law says the only way to prevent someone from voting is to have a probate court declare the person mentally incompetent.

Bonadies said she wasn’t going to do that to her mother.

“My mom's insulted enough by being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease,” Bonadies said. “I was never going to take it to court and have her declared legally incompetent."

Both Cedar Village Nursing Home and the Warren County Board of Elections say they are following current law.

"We’re obligated to follow the law, and what you’ve identified is a gray area that legally people are entitled to vote unless they’ve been declared incompetent," Vogel said. “Then the question arises, should assisted living communities be in a position of deciding who votes and who does not?"

But Bonadies is not satisfied.

“Something needs to be done," she said.

Sleath and Vogel said they would like to see more guidance from the state on voting in nursing homes until if, or when, laws change.

A spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office said there are no specific guidelines for voting and Alzheimer’s patients.

A similar law is on the books in Kentucky. Everyone is allowed to vote unless they are declared incompetent by a court.

Indiana has no law to disqualify anyone from voting.

Hillary Lake is an investigative reporter for WCPO- 9 On Your Side's I-Team. Follow her on Facebook here.