VERNON — Vernon’s municipal election is set to take place Tuesday, March 9, but the owner of an assisted living facility claims efforts were made to prevent residents of the home from casting their votes.
Sandra Hall is the owner of Holmes Creek Assisted Living Facility, located on Roche Avenue in Vernon.
Hall says she asked residents if they wanted absentee ballots, a suggestion she made to help limit the potential of exposing the residents to COVID-19.
“30 of the facility’s 42 residents asked for absentee ballots,” said Hall. “I started the conversation with the City of Vernon in mid-February. It took three weeks from the first time I contacted the City to get ballots for these residents in a manner that wouldn’t expose them to the public.”
City Clerk Tracy Walker advised council members in a March 1 workshop that she emailed Hall to ask for the names of the residents who needed ballots.
“We need more than the number of ballots requested,” Walker said in the meeting. “We need to know who we’re actually sending them to.” Both Walker and Hall agree that Hall emailed the list of names to the city offices Tuesday, March 2, and that ballots were hand-delivered to the facility later that same day.
While Hall states she is frustrated with how long it took to receive ballots for the residents, she was more troubled by comments made by city council member Joey Brock in that same public meeting.
“Those people are in that home for a reason,” Brock said in the open meeting. “Everyone knows Vernon’s election is always decided by 10 or so votes. If someone over there is against one of the candidates, this could impact the election.”
Brock went on to express concerns regarding whether the residents themselves would be making the ballot decisions before signing off.
Historically, only about 60 voters participate in Vernon’s city election.
City Attorney Michelle Jordan explained the recently appointed canvassing board would assist in verifying all absentee ballots and stated in a later interview that the City is committed to preserving voting rights.
“We recognize there may be some residents of the facility who have some vulnerabilities,” said Jordan. “We just want to make sure the residents of the facility are able to freely vote without influence or interference.”
Jordan added that the City asked if the facility needed assistance with supervised voting by absentee electors, but the offer was declined.
“We offered this assistance to ensure the residents of the facility were able to exercise their right to vote in compliance with state statute, as well as in a safe environment within the ongoing pandemic.”
Councilman Brock later sought to clarify his statement.
“I didn’t mean anything disparaging about the residents of the facility,” said Brock. “I certainly could have worded it a little better, but all I am saying that if the absentee voting is done, I want to see it done right.”
Hall says Brock’s statement in the public meeting serves as evidence the ALF residents are being discriminated against.
“For him to have said, knowing audio was being recorded, that the residents are in the home ‘for a reason’ tells me that he absolutely discriminates against them,” said Hall. “There are many reasons someone could be living in an assisted living facility, including due to physical limitations.”
Hall said three case managers from the Life Management Center are scheduled to be present while residents are completing their ballots.
“Residents of this facility deserve their right to vote,” she added. “They did not give up that right when they became unable to live independently. To impede their access to absentee ballots is to violate their rights.”
In addition to Brock, other incumbents seeking re-election are Gwendolyn March, and Rebecca Baxley. Challengers for those seats are Gary Owens, Mary Porteus, Chad Jackson, and Tony Lagman.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Vernon City Hall on Election Day.
This article originally appeared on Washington County News: ALF owner alleges attempts to suppress residents votes