The Ederly Vote
By Chelsea Diana
BU News Service
BOSTON— Loretta Mirisola, an 87-year-old South Boston resident, remembered the first time she voted, for the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1944.
“It felt like freedom,” she said.
This year, Mirisola would not have made it to the polls to vote without help from her daughter, Lori Miller, who brought her to the precinct.
“My mom would have never made it up here if I hadn’t drove her,” Miller, 52, said as she assisted her mother out of the polling station at Monsignor John T. Powers Elderly Housing on L Street in South Boston, on Tuesday afternoon.
“She still has the right to vote and it’s important that she is able to get to the polling stations,” Miller said. “Many of the important issues this election affect her well being and she needs to have a voice.”
Many elderly voters find it hard to arrange transportation to and from polling stations, especially in the cold November weather. With about 12 percent of voters in South Boston over the age of 65, according to 2010 census data, it is important for them to find a way to make it to the polls.
George Balaconis, the warden for the polling station at Monsignor John T. Powers Elderly Housing, said Massachusetts tries to ease the process for older voters by placing many voting precincts in elderly care facilities.
“We see a lot of voters over the age of 65 at this precinct, so we’re always more willing to help them out or direct them to the issues board if need be,” Balaconis said while overseeing the polling site.
Balaconis said, many voters with disabilities or elderly voters, like Mirisola, bring relatives to help them. “If they come unaccompanied,” he said, “we will send someone over to stand next to them to make sure they understand and check the right box for the candidate of their choice.”
Balaconis said the voting officials are there as unbiased observers and to make sure no one influences an elderly voter’s decision process.
If a voter needs to know more about ballot questions, Balaconis said the officials direct them to a poster detailing the issues, instead of educating the voters themselves.
Many elderly people come to vote in wheelchairs, Balaconis said, and for voters with disabilities the precinct has special access arrangements for them and can others with handicaps.
He said, the precinct had set up specially designed voting booths and placed instructional posters lower to the ground to accommodate voters in wheelchairs.
“We don’t want to sway voters,” Balaconis said. “We’re neutral, we’re just here to help if something mechanical goes wrong.”
As Mirisola inserted her ballot on Tuesday, the voting machine got stuck and she needed help from the officials to sort it out.
The machine was quickly fixed and her ballot sent on its way to be counted.
“They [the voting officials] were very patient with her and helped us out quickly,” Miller said. “You could tell they were trained well to help the elderly.”