Making Voting Accessible to All

The elderly and those with disabilities get help casting ballots.

The ability for handicapped and elderly voters to cast their ballots in the 2004 Presidential election was made easier at Vinson Hall retirement community in McLean because of the polling station conveniently located on the campus. Hundreds of residents from the retirement home received preferential treatment that allowed them to avoid the long line that snaked through Arleigh Burke Pavilion.

ÒWe have a polling place set up right here so the residents donÕt have to go anywhere. It makes it very nice for them,Ó said Vinson Hall spokesperson Holly Morris. The polling place is not restricted to elderly and handicapped voters. Residents in the Chesterbrook section of McLean also cast their ballots at Arleigh Burke Pavilion.

Lara Mathews of McLean said, ÒWith a line like this, normally I would be upset with butting in line but itÕs completely understandable in this case. Actually, I think itÕs great that they have this for the residents.Ó

Although Vinson Hall is open to the public, it was originally conceived of as a retirement community for retired military personnel. The bulk of the residents at the facility have served in one of the branches of the military at one time or another. Doing their civic duty and casting their ballots takes on special significance to this group. ÒI would have stood in line if I had to. YouÕre supposed to vote if youÕre a good citizen of the country,Ó resident Ernest Langholz, 84, said.

Assistant chief for voting in that area, Sophie Chen, said, ÒWe bring the handicapped in, sit them down and take their ID and get them a ballot so they donÕt have to wait.Ó The waiting time to vote at Arleigh Burke was often up to an hour, which would pose a hardship for those in walkers and wheelchairs or trailing oxygen tanks.

VINSON HALL RESIDENT James Harkins said, ÒThis makes a big difference. IÕll be 85 next month and it is getting hard to stand in line. ItÕs nice to move ahead in line when youÕre this old.Ó

Langholz, a fellow resident, said, ÒThis is much easier. ItÕs only a few feet away and they even have a bus that comes over here if you canÕt walk.Ó

Donald Morton has been a voting officer at Arleigh Burke for more than a decade. He casts his ballot in another section of McLean but enjoys coming to this facility to help. ÒWe really like the service here. ItÕs wonderful. We keep moving up and down the line bringing in the handicapped and giving them special treatment,Ó said Morton.

Many of the residents of Vinson Hall also turned out to work the polls and help their peers on Election Day. Betty Kelson, 75, was a poll worker for the first time. ÒI really hadnÕt had time before this. But I believe in the cause. ItÕs been a privilege and an honor. There is a special group that comes in and you can help people. Look at the seniors here at the polls, this is dedication,Ó said Kelson as she watched an elderly woman in a wheelchair cast her vote.

Voting has changed from paper ballots to electronic voting machines in the lifetime of Vinson Halls residents but it doesnÕt appear to have fazed them. ÒIÕm surprised at how quickly the elderly catch on to the electronic voting. They know what they want to do when they get up there,Ó said Morton.