Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Voting & MS

Living with MS can make the usual sometimes unusual and other times interesting to say the least. Voting and MS progression unquestionably falls into the unusual and interesting category.


‘Officials’ try to encourage disabled citizens to vote by mail-in or absentee ballots. That has always rubbed Patti wrong over the years and frankly it is easier said than done from a caregiver’s perspective.


Yesterday began with a surprise when I went to pick Patti up to vote. I discovered her care facility was a designated polling location. However, since we had not changed her address, it was not her polling location.


Traffic jam, parking problems, even lines out the door were so bizarre for a facility that traditionally would be eager to have visitors. Finally getting in, I “heard” Patti sharing her morning bingo win of a stuffed elephant with all these new visitors and captive audience in the hall. I could only chuckle as I watched her working the line sharing and asking if these new visitors didn’t think her elephant was soooo cute. I also noticed poll workers ‘glaring’ at Patti. Of course, she could not see them nor were they aware she could not see that far. Obviously a stuffed elephant was too close to political material for their comfort.


Convincing her that unless we also had a stuffed donkey we should leave the elephant in her room, we departed to vote.


Patti’s visual impairment is one MS symptom that affects voting. She is “legally blind” and needs assistance. That is one issue and usually can easily be resolved.


Another and newer issue is understanding the who and what of voting. Mental confusion and cognitive problems increasingly are a challenge, though only significantly for last couple of elections including off year Congressional voting.


What I do is review the candidates and any ballot questions the week or two before the election looking for consistency in her answers. I repeat the process including witnesses just to confirm for my own sake that I am not unintentionally manipulating the process of explanation or questions. If we used a mail-in, I would just fill it out for her. So by actually voting live, I think it is fairer.


When we lived in Maryland we used to joke it was “torture the disabled”. Poor Patti had to be accompanied into a voting booth by three poll workers representing the Democratic Party, Republican Party, and an Independent because she was visually disabled. First of all they were the pull down lever machines behind a curtain and three standing people plus a person in a wheelchair is VERY crowded. They each had to explain a prewritten statement for each lever category. It was voting hell! That was bad enough for each candidate but when they got to referendum issues and ballot initiatives it was ‘torture the disabled.’


Even worse was that they could not touch a lever for her. Patti had to pull the lever. Unbelievably three little old ladies would try to support Patti in a standing position. It was unbelievable.


I was not allowed to assist as I might try to "influence" her vote. Even though each time we were reminded that Patti could vote with a write in ballot and I could help her prepare it at home. Go figure! Wouldn’t I be better able to manipulate at home alone? All I wanted to do was help physically support her while the little old ladies explained! <grin>


My favorite anecdote was the second Clinton election. It was not a good physical day for MS and while Patti was behind the curtain being tortured by the little old ladies trying to physically support her she began to fall and grabbed the voting machine for support. Voting machines are not very stable and it in turn began to fall.


I’m watching this develop like a single domino in a line start to go. The little old ladies, about to be crushed, push the falling voting machine in the opposite direction. Patti looses her grip and falls into her wheel chair. Without Patti’s resistance the voting machine now begins to tip over in the other direction. The little old ladies race to the back of the machine to keep it from falling. They startle the person behind the curtain in the machine to the right who shrieks. The machine they are trying to stabilize comes to a loud clunk as it settles.


In the meantime, back in Patti’s wheelchair she had not set her brakes. When Patti falls into her chair she shoots out in the opposite direction slamming into yet another voting machine on the left. The impact knocks the machine a couple feet knocking down its yelling occupant and setting all kind of machinery inside spinning and whirring.


I cannot tell if I am a Three Stooges movie or if this is really happening. I can tell Patti is absolutely unharmed and I am laughing so hard my eyes are watering, and my sides hurt.


One or another poll worker begins to exclaim, “Oh my God!” (In addition to the voters startled and knocked down attempting to vote in adjacent machines.) From what I can overhear poll workers believe the two machines have suffered ‘tumbler damage’ and possibly hours of voting has been contaminated.


I nearly dissolve into hysteria as Patti rolls up to huddled poll workers and exclaims, "Excuse me, I don't believe I finished voting." <GRIN>


Ahhh! There is nothing as beautiful as democracy in action! Of course, that was Maryland and poll workers were psychotic.


Here in Pennsylvania ‘reason prevails’. We arrive at our local fire station and they ask Patti simply, "Would you like one of us to help you fill out the form?" "Or would you like someone of your own choosing to help you to fill out the form?"


In our district we have good old paper ballots similar to standardized tests, fill in the circle with a #2 pencil. If you want to write in a name, you simply write in a name. 


It took us about 45 minutes to vote including waiting time in line. Patti enjoyed the outing. After all she alone had a chair in the waiting line. A poll worker came out near the end of our wait and offered to take her to the front of the line because she was disabled. She declined politely, saying, “No thanks, I can wait like everyone else”. After he had walked away, she muttered sarcastically, “Now why didn’t he offer that 30 minutes ago when I was at the back of the long line?”  Her remark broke up everyone within earshot and Patti became a crowd celebrity.


I just kept Patti at home for the day to nap, visit with our daughter after school, play with our cats,and some dinner together.


After 9 hours of caregiving I had forgotten in these last 6 months just how HARD it is. I had forgotten about the Depend changes, clothing and bed linen changes and laundry after a nap, showering and changing Patti, and more laundry, plus the physical demands of transferring multiple times an hour or more. The mental demands of being unable to leave her unattended were all the more difficult.


For a least this family, another election day goes down in the record books. Beginning with a stuffed elephant as an omen, possibly? Ending with an elected President, possibly? The only definite for us is that they are NEVER run of the mill. 


  1. I needed that chuckle, and you made the details so vivid.  We have been voting absentee for years.  When I was teaching, I was too tired at the end of the day to go vote, so it was so much easier.  Now I just let my husband do the deed. after we have discussed the issued and people.

  2. This is this best voting story ever!!!

  3. What a fantastic entry!  I had just had to laugh.  :-)  Make sure you give Patti a big hug from me.

  4. What an hysterical story. I've just got to pass it on to my MS friends.

  5. This is so funny becuz it was true! Still we will all take democracy any way we have to :D)   Echoooo1

  6. Patrick, I keep telling you that you should be writing or teaching...this article just proves it all the more. I knew the story but reading it is another thing, it is just too good to miss...I think you should send in to Readers' Digest. G. Decker (Patti's Mom)


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