The votes cast in the 2019 Southampton Village general election included a meaningful number of votes cast as absentee ballots by residents of a nursing home located in the village.
What motivated the nursing home residents to cast these absentee ballots? One possible explanation is that one or more candidates in the election, or their campaigns, made a concerted effort to target the nursing home’s residents, solicit their votes and influence their voting choices. It would be disappointing if this were true.
Nursing home residents are some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens. They are often easily pressured into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Because of this, New York State law tightly regulates how nursing home residents can cast absentee ballots.
However, this state law protecting nursing home residents has a loophole, which may have been relied on to make the nursing home votes in our recent election legal, in a technical sense, even if the votes were solicited by candidates in the election.
But even if soliciting the nursing home votes was technically legal, it doesn’t mean that it was an appropriate or decent thing to do. Imagine how angry you’d be if one of your parents was in a nursing home and was convinced by a stranger to vote in an election that your parent knew little or nothing about. Taking advantage of people in nursing homes just shouldn’t be done—especially by someone seeking a position of public trust in the village.
Of course, nursing home residents should vote in village elections if they want to do so. And if they need help in order to vote, they should get it from family friends—but not from the campaigns or politicians.
The recent election may not be the first time that the village’s nursing home residents have been mined for their votes, but it should be the last time.
Candidates in future village elections should be required to pledge that their campaigns will not target nursing home residents, or the loophole in the law should be eliminated so that nursing home residents cannot be exploited for their votes.
Lake Agawam may not be the only thing in our community that needs to be cleaned up.
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