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Assisted voting & politiqueras

Okay, before anyone gets offended and thinks that I’m mocking those poor souls suffering from Alzheimer’s, I’m not. I lived the experience with a close family member for almost seven years, so I know the stress and emotional pain that comes tied to the disease.

Over the years, however, in the columns I’ve written about the politiquera(o)s, AKA, paid political votegetters, some votes won by hook or by crook, free coke or cerveza, I’ve mocked the voting process, whereby, a politiquera visits a nursing home and then drives a patient with dementia (which may be caused by Alzheimer’s), to a polling place where the politiquera “helps” complete the voting process, which includes casting the vote.

One would think that if a voter needed help voting, then an independent voter’s assistant at the polling place could accompany the voter to the voting booth and complete the process. That help would be based on a voter’s inability, for example, to see well enough to read the names, or incapable of using their hands or arms to reach the machine.

Why let the paid political operative (politiquera) get near the voting booth? Especially if the voter is suffering from some sort of mental impairment, whether it be from dementia or some disease other than Alzheimer’s? Using that scenario, the politiquera with the voter at the voting booth can lead to all sorts of speculation – is the registered voter really voting on their own, or simply letting the politiquera choose for them? Plus, if the voter is something from some sort of cognitive impairment, then, one could argue, why are they even being allowed to vote? If they can’t remember their name, how in the world are they supposed to keep the candidates straight in their head? Especially, if the election involves slates.

There is good news and bad news as it turns out, based on a recent interview I had with Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón. The good news is, in her opinion, it would be impossible for someone with Alzheimer’s or any other mental impairment to get past the check-in desk at the polling place.

The bad news is, the politiquera(o) can still go stand by the voting machine with them when they vote.

What I didn’t ask Ramón is how long she thinks this cleansing of the voting process as it were has been in place? She may have said since time immemorial. Over the years, however, I can’t count the number of people who have called me to say that some nursing home patient with zero mental cognition has arrived at a polling place and been allowed to vote. By the time these calls usually came through, though, the voter was long gone, so it wasn’t like I could drive there to check. Plus, how could you even verify such a thing? Walk up to the voter in question and ask: “Do you know your name?” That would go over well.

Point is, according to the Hidalgo County Elections Administrator, “We cannot make a subjective opinion as to what a voter’s mental state may be. But let’s say I walk in without my glasses. I can’t see the ballot. So, I have the right to ask someone to assist me read the ballot for me, mark the ballot for me, because I wouldn’t be able to see the ballot if I didn’t have some help.”

Ramón says her department lacks the right to question a voter, but once they ask for assistance, “we train our judges and clerks to offer the help needed, because all of our clerks and judges are assistants. Sometimes a voter will decide that we are the ones that they want to help them, and sometimes they bring their own assistant. It is the voter’s right.”

There are, however, signs to watch out for to ensure that no one is gaming the voting system, so to speak. While the polls are open, election judges and clerks are required to walk around. They comprise what is known as the “votingmachine team,” and at least one person is circling the voting machines looking to see if anyone needs help or if anything looks out of sorts.

“I do train our judges and clerks so if they see, for example, an assistant doing the voting for the person they brought to the polls, we go to the voter without addressing the assistant, and we say, for example, ‘I see, ma’am, I see, sir, that your assistant is voting the ballot for you. Is this what you requested?’ Some may say, ‘Well, it’s because I can’t see, or, my fingers, I have arthritis.’ They let us know why they’re not the one doing the voting, but at least we alert them to this. In the end, though, it is the voter’s decision.”

For those who may not have voted in recent years past, the old days of the closed voting booth are no longer a reality. Now, an elections judge or clerk can see what’s going on between the voter and the machine.

Plus, said Ramón, there are checks-and-balances in place before one even gets to the voting machine to ensure that the voter is of sound mind, shall we say. In other words, they can think for themselves.

Addressing the voter instead of his or her voting assistant (maybe a politiquera, maybe not) wasn’t standard protocol when Ramón was first appointed administrator, she said.

“When I first got here, every verbal exchange was between one of our clerks and the voter’s assistant. The assistant would check them in (the voter in the wheelchair, for example). The assistant would bring the voter registration card (to the polling table). I thought, ‘Wait a minute. You’re not the voter. You go over there. You wait.’ And so, we started to deal directly with the voter. We check in the voter. We talk to the voter. And then, when the voter gets to the point in the check-in process that we already know they have an assistant, then we’ll say, ‘Just keep in mind that we’re able to help you (cast your ballot).’

“ ‘No, no, no. I brought my assistant.’ Then the assistant is called in. They have to read an oath, swear, and sign, and then they’re both then led to the voting machine at that point. But the assistants who bring them are not part of the check-in process.”

So, in essence, if one listens to what Yvonne Ramón is saying, a voter suffering from dementia, let’s say, couldn’t get past the checkin desk with a politiquera holding his or her hand?

“They would need to communicate with us and declare their needs and their decisions,” said Ramón.

One thing she really wants to point out, though, said Ramón, is that a voter can come to the polling place with an assistant.

“I just don’t want the community to think that they cannot come with an assistant if that is their need,” she said.

It is not, however, a perfect system said Ramón.

“There will be that voter with their disability, perhaps their sight, whatever their need is, it’s not like we’re going to say that a loved one or an assistant can’t walk with them. Questions will be asked of the voter, though.”

What about people who are deaf and can only communicate via sign language?

“We’re not sign language experts,” said Ramón. “And so, they would have their sign language assistant, and we would have to then communicate with that person. The majority of the time, we have to deal, we want to deal, we should deal with the voter, with the exceptions of those that require someone to assist them because they can’t vote on their own. You have all kinds of scenarios. Like I’ve already said, I just don’t want the community to think that they cannot come (to the polls) with an assistant if that is their need.”

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