GOP Plan Would Expand Restrictions On Campaigning In Nursing Homes

Candidates Would Not Be Allowed To Visit Facilities On Day When Residents Fill Out Absentee Ballots Under Proposal

Ann (CC-BY)

Two Republican legislators are backing a bill that would bar candidates or their agents from campaigning at nursing homes on the day special voting deputies visit to help residents fill out their absentee ballots.

It’s already illegal for anyone to try to influence nursing home voters while they are actually filling out their ballots. This bill would bar such activity for the entire day that voting takes place.

At an Assembly committee’s hearing for the bill on Tuesday, Republican sponsor Sen. Devin Lemahieu said it’s important to protect elderly voters from electioneering.

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“Especially on this committee, I know we all try to protect the right to vote, especially of the most vulnerable, and make sure that they’re not sure coerced,” he said.

Other backers of the bill say the measure applies the same rules already in place at other polling places on Election Day. Rep. Tyler Vorpagel, a co-sponsor, said that the nursing home is essentially a polling place on the day special voting deputies come to help residents fill out their ballots.

“We don’t allow electioneering at our municipal polling places on Election Day, and it’s only fair to treat the nursing home as a polling place for these individuals on that day,” Vorpagel told the committee.

Democrats on the committee said the bill is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. Sponsors say it was a nursing home administrator who asked for the new restrictions, but Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau said passing a bill because one nursing home administrator thinks there’s a problem is not a responsible way to legislate.

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy neither opposes nor supports the bill, but said candidates from both parties consider nursing homes to be a good source of votes. He said they often make a point of visiting the homes to recruit voters.

“It’s a group of people who tend to participate more often demographically from an age standpoint,” he said.

Kennedy said the practice of sending special voting deputies to nursing homes to assist residents in filling out ballots was established specifically to prevent candidates or their supporters from trying to influence a resident’s vote when they are filing out their ballots. He said the bill simply expands the time candidates are prohibited from being on the premises to an entire day, instead of just when the voting deputies are present.

The bill carries a penalty of up to $1,000 in fines or six months in jail for candidates or their supporters who show up at a nursing home on the day residents are voting.

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