Blog: Voting and dementia

By Chris Perkins. Published on 13/5/2020

Dr Chris Perkins discusses how voting is a form of civic participation for people living with dementia to be encouraged.

People with dementia like other citizens of New Zealand have a right and obligation to vote in the general election. You can enrol to vote if:

·         you are 18 years or older AND

·         you are a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident AND

·         you have lived in New Zealand for one year or more continuously at some point

There is no test for capacity to vote. Some people mistakenly assume that lack of capacity under the PPPR Act makes someone incapable of voting. However, the PPPR Act covers only Welfare (generally, how/where to receive care, medical and end-of-life decision-making) and Property matters, not the ability to vote.

The only people who cannot enrol to vote are people who have been out of the country for a certain period, people in prison (though you can vote if you are on remand), or those who have been in a psychiatric hospital for more than three years after being charged with a criminal offence

Support to Enrol

Therefore, even if you live in a secure dementia unit you should be enrolled and offered the chance to vote in the upcoming general election. If you are physically or mentally unable to complete the enrolment form, any registered elector, including an EPOA or Welfare Guardian may help you complete it and sign it for you.

Support to vote

A support person can come with you when you vote.  They can go behind the voting screen with you, and can read out the words and information on the voting papers. The support person can also mark the voting papers for you if you ask them to.
Advance voting makes it easy for anyone who can’t get to a polling place in their electorate on Election Day. This may be because of work, sickness, infirmity, disability, being away from home or for any other reason. This would apply to very frail people who cannot leave residential aged care. Information on how to arrange this can be obtained by calling 0800 36 76 56 or from the Electoral Commission Te Kaitiaki Take Kowhiri website. http://www.elections.org.nz/voters/enrol-check-or-update-now/who-can-and-cant-enrol

Obviously some people with very severe dementia will not understand or remember about elections but many older people have always taken their duty to vote very seriously, may still recall voting and wish to participate. There are often a few people, even in dementia-specific or psychogeriatric units who would understand that it was election time and would want to vote. Everyone should be enrolled, given the opportunity to vote and assisted to do this, even if it is time-consuming for the staff.

I am infuriated when I hear that the manager of a rest home or hospital has taken it upon him or herself to decide that the residents in their dementia unit are incapable of voting and has returned the enrolment papers. It is not up to residential care providers to disenfranchise some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens.

 

http://www.elections.org.nz/voters/get-ready-enrol-and-vote/enrol-and-vote-disability 

 

About the author

After working in General Practice Chris trained in psychiatry, specialising in mental health for older people. She has worked in this area for nearly 30 years with a particular interest in dementia. She is the author of books on dementia (The New Zealand Dementia Guide (2004), revised 2006, Dementia, What you need to know (2013), Random House / Penguin). 

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