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'Pillow talk ideas'

"'Pillow talk ideas'" Continued...

Issue: "Four horsemen of the apocalypse," Oct. 4, 2008

Although the De Boers gave the husband a job working with the fishpond on one of the farms, he wasn't happy there. He's back scavenging-it's hard to change the habits of 20 years. But at least now his family lives where the children can go to school, suggesting that urban transformation takes vision and patience. Corrie De Boer is not discouraged: "I'm encouraged because there's more interest," she says. "In 1984 it was hard to find partners."

Voting with dementia

By Susan Olasky

In 2001 a federal district court found in Doe v. Roe that if people lack the capacity to vote they do not necessarily have the right to vote. The court established a standard, the Doe voting capacity standard, so that people are considered incompetent to vote if they "lack the capacity to understand the nature and effect of voting such that they cannot make an individual choice."

Sounds sensible-but as Americans get older and the incidence of Alzheimer's (and other forms of dementia) increases, many debate how to apply the Doe standard. A 2005 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry noted that nursing home workers needed "practical guidance as to how to distinguish between residents who are capable and incapable of voting." The journal article went on to report a possible interview tool that could separate those who still had the capacity to vote from those who don't.

But some don't want to distinguish among capacities. University of Pennsylvania professor Jason Karlawish, founder and head of the Dementia Voting Project at Penn's Alzheimer's Disease Center, told Stateline.org, "We should let people vote for any reason they want." Karlawish is particularly concerned about access to voting by people in nursing facilities. As the AARP complains, "Nearly two-thirds of all residents of long-term care facilities have some level of dementia. This November, many of them will not be able to vote."

Karlawish's solution: mobile polling for voters with dementia who live in nursing facilities. Vermont in November will be the first state to try it. The plan: "Two specially trained voting officials-one from each political party-visit nursing facilities and personally assist residents who want to vote by helping them fill out ballots on site." Vermont officials hope that the nation will follow their lead.

Several decades ago the idea of voting rights for those with dementia would have been a non-starter, but Karlawish frames the issue this way: "We need to consider the 'personhood' of someone with cognitive impairment." But shouldn't voting require some level of understanding? Maybe not. Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz set a pretty low standard: "We shouldn't be holding elders and those with disabilities to a higher standard than we hold others."

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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