U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging
Good morning. Thank you Chairman Kohl and committee members for the opportunity to offer some insights on the effect of the aging population in the United States on the administration of elections.
I am Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, also Immediate Past President of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). I have served as Vermont’s Secretary of State for ten years, and I also serve on the Election Assistance Commission’s Board of Advisors. Last year I had the pleasure of participating in a McGeorge Law Review Symposium addressing the challenges of voting as people age.
There was a time not too long ago when the only people who spent much time thinking about the challenges of running our nation’s elections were the bureaucrats charged with elections administration. But that all changed in November of 2000 when the country experienced a dramatic example of how a poorly managed election could call into question the legitimacy of our democracy. Since that time our electoral system has undergone close scrutiny resulting in public debate, judicial decisions, federal and state legislation and unprecedented investments in new technology. One of the lessons we have learned from this experience is that it is not acceptable to wait until a system breaks down before we fix it—especially if it involves the fundamental expression of our democracy - voting. That is why it is vitally important that we anticipate and plan for the challenges our country’s voting systems will face as our nation ages.
The aging of America. According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of Americans who are 55 and older will nearly double between 2007 and 2030, from 60 million (or 20 percent of the population) to 107.6 million (31 percent of the population.) By 2030, there will be 70.3 million Americans who are 65 and older, nearly two times the 34.8 million alive today. This demographic bloc will make up 20% of the overall population. We don’t even have to wait that long to see the effect of the “aging of America;” between 2007 and 2015, the number of Americans ages 85 and older is expected to increase by 40 percent.
With medical advances not only are Americans living longer, but more will be healthy and active. The National Institute on Aging has reported that the rates of disability and functional limitation among the older population have declined substantially over the past two decades with only one-in-five older Americans reporting a chronic disability. That being said, we can expect an increase in long term care needs as more people will live long enough to develop age-related conditions such as dementia. It is projected that among Americans who reach age 65, 69 percent will need long-term care at some time in their lives. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service has reported that “[t]wo-thirds of the people receiving long-term care are over 65, an age group expected to double by 2030. After 2030, even faster growth rates are anticipated for people over 85, the age group most likely to need care.”
As Americans age we do not expect to see a decline in their interest in participating in civic life by voting. People age 65 and older consistently vote in higher proportions than other age groups. In 2004, 69 percent of the older population voted, compared with 52 percent of those ages 25-44. In 2004, of all the votes cast, 19 percent were by people age 65 and older. By the 2040 presidential election, people 65 and older are projected to cast 41 percent of all of the votes. This means that as we plan for future elections we must consider the unique opportunities and challenges that will be presented by the aging of America.
Planning for the future. With more Americans living longer the challenge of meeting the civic needs of older people must be addressed by the individuals and institutions that serve this growing population, and by the individuals and institutions that run our elections. As we do this we must remain clear about our underlying values: that in a democratic society we should facilitate access to voting while ensuring that there are safeguards in place to preserve its integrity.
Maximizing access to voting while protecting the integrity of the election is not as easy as it sounds. There is a varied body of state and federal laws designed to ensure voting rights, discourage voter suppression and prevent voter fraud; and every state has its own unique history, tradition and legal structure related to the administration of elections within its jurisdiction.
It is important to remember that the issues that arise with aging voters must be addressed within the broader political context. Policies that balance the tension between increasing access and preserving integrity are hotly debated. We see this particularly as applied to such issues as voter registration reforms, the need for voter identification, and technology that will permit all voters to cast a private and independent vote. Also, the tension between voting access and integrity raise unique challenges when applied to people who need assistance to vote, who are under guardianship or who have cognitive impairment, as well as to those who no longer have current identification and to those who may not have easy access to the polling place.
Recommendations. There are steps we can take in our states to prepare for the aging of America.
1. We must make sure that across the country elderly voters have the option of voting by absentee ballot or by mail.
2. We must ensure that our polling places are convenient to our older voters, perhaps by placing polling places in senior centers or by offering public transportation to the polls.
3. We must make our polling places easier for the elderly to navigate by having clear, easy to read signs and chairs available to make it easier for elders to “stand” in line.
4. We must continue our efforts to develop voting technology that is easy to use to permit elderly voters to continue to vote privately and independently even as they have a harder time reading and writing.
5. We must explore new ways to reach voters who are in residential care facilities to ensure that they are provided an opportunity to vote, and to prevent voter intimidation or fraud.
6. We must be sure that states that choose to adopt voter identification requirements do so in a way that does not disenfranchise the elderly who no longer have a valid drivers license or other government issued identification.
Vermont’s approach. In Vermont we are addressing the challenge of the aging population in a variety of ways.
1. Vote-by-phone technology. We use the IVS Vote-By-Phone system to permit voters with disabilities, the elderly and others to vote privately and independently at our polling places. This system permits a voter to use the telephone keypad to mark a paper ballot which is printed out in our Elections Center, and which can then be counted with the rest of the ballots on Election Day. Although we have so far only deployed this voting option in our polling places it has great potential for use by older and disabled voters who may wish to vote at home, but who cannot privately and independently mark a paper ballot.
2. Mobile polling. In the 2008 general election we plan to implement a mobile polling project in which trained election workers will bring ballots to residential care facilities prior to the election to permit eligible residents to register and vote. Residents who cannot vote independently will be offered assistance from bipartisan pairs of election workers who have been trained to work with elderly voters, and in particular, voters who may have some cognitive impairment. We will be partnering with Dr. Jason Karlawish, University of Pennsylvania Department of Medicine, Geriatrics Division; Richard J. Bonnie, John S. Battle Professor of Law, University of Virginia; and Charles P. Sabatino, Director of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging to pilot, test and measure the success of mobile polling in Vermont. Mobile polling has tremendous potential to enable residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other residential care facilities to freely exercise their rights to vote while minimizing risk of voter intimidation and fraud.
Conclusion. In our states and as a nation we must be proactive to ensure that we do not shut our older Americans out of the voting process. I thank this committee for taking the time to consider how our election laws and practices must change and adapt to ensure that in the future we are prepared for this new challenge.
March 20, 2008
By Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz
On June 9, 1893, a floor in Ford’s Theatre, the site of President Lincoln’s assassination, collapsed killing 22 War Department clerks and injuring another 68. If only they had S.351, the bill to consolidate the management of public records, perhaps those lives could have been saved!
Perhaps a word of explanation is appropriate. The War Department had taken over Ford’s Theatre in 1887 and the clerks employed there were wading through thousands of documents to find those that were related to the service, pensions, and deaths of Union soldiers during the Civil War. It was the weight of those files that caused the floor to collapse. Unfortunately, many of the records stored in the theater had no value and should have been thrown away years before.
S.351 is Vermont’s new records program consolidation law. It combines the functions of the State Archives and the Public Records Division of the Department of Buildings and General Services under the Secretary of State’s Office. This creates a single, professional voice for advising agencies on the management of their records from point of creation to final disposition. The bill ends confusing and overlapping authority and allows us to better focus our resources for the effective management of public records and information. It will ensure greater access to the records needed to keep government accountable by improving government’s ability to cull out records that have no continuing value. Not only will this diminish the volume, and weight, of records, but it will mean that less time will be wasted culling through reams of paper that should have been thrown away years before.
So what does this mean for you? The chief benefit, once modern record management practices are developed and implemented, will be that public records will be easier to identify and access.
S.351 is the result of a wonderful and sustained partnership among the Governor’s Office, the Department of Buildings and General Services, the Department of Information and Innovation and my office. The House and Senate Government Operations Committees were very supportive of the bill as a good government initiative.
There is much to be done and change will not be immediately noticeable. Still an important step has been taken to lighten the load of government paperwork so that we can improve our ability to serve our citizens and so that public records can be a true asset to government and citizen alike.
June 20, 2008
In a democracy one of the most important rights we have is the right to vote. When administering the nation’s elections our goal is to make it easy to vote – and hard to cheat. Indeed, our laws and procedures seek to strike a balance to ensure the integrity of the vote while not creating unnecessary hoops for voters to jump through.
Across the country there is a debate about whether states ought to require voters to show a government issued photo identification in order to vote. At first glance this doesn’t seem unreasonable. After all, we must present identification to get on an airplane, check into a hotel and to cash a check. However, there is a critical difference between these more commercial transactions and voting. We do not simply permit people to walk into a polling place and vote. Voters must fill out registration forms. It is the registration process that ensures the integrity of the vote.
Here are the facts about voter fraud and voter identification:
Only real people (and not pets or fictional people) can vote. This is because pets or fictional people cannot register to vote. When a person registers they must provide their driver’s license number or a non-driver identification number. A person who has neither of these documents must instead provide the last four digits of his or her social security number. Before adding the new voter to the voter rolls the name and identification numbers are cross-checked with the motor vehicle database or the Social Security Administration database to confirm identity. In addition, if a person registers to vote by mail they must include copies of identifying documents such as a utility bill or a copy of a driver’s license.
Voter identification is not needed to prevent a person from casting a vote on behalf of a person who has died. The statewide voter registration database is regularly cross-checked with the state database of death certificates. When a person dies their name is taken off the voter rolls.
Voter identification will not prevent non-citizens from voting. Indeed, non-citizens can legally obtain driver’s licenses and other forms of identification that can be used as identification at a polling place. The way we prevent non-citizens from voting is through the voter registration process. Voter registration forms require the applicant to sign, under penalty of perjury, that he or she is a citizen of the United States.
Our voter registration rolls prevent voting in more than one location. When a person registers to vote in a new town, their name is cross-checked on the statewide database and the clerk of their former town of residence is notified so that their name can be removed from the previous voter checklist.
At the end of the day voter identification can be demonstrated to prevent only one kind of voter fraud – the kind that occurs when a person comes to the polling place pretending to be another person. Across the country there is little or no evidence that this kind of fraud occurs (since there is a risk of being caught by someone who knows the real voter.) On the other hand we know that there are many elderly and disabled people, and many urban poor who do not have the kinds of identification that is being required by voter identification laws.
I applaud efforts to reform our election laws to ensure the integrity of the vote. But when we consider adding new restrictions on access to voting we must be held to a high standard of proof that the restrictions will have a meaningful impact on the sanctity of the vote.
August 25, 2008
My house is a lot quieter these days. It is not just that the kids are back in school, but our nest has gotten a little emptier because my oldest has gone off to college. Surprisingly, it is not just my daughter that I will miss – but our house feels empty without the noise and excitement of her friends. We have gotten used to having young people stopping by at all hours, hanging out on the porch listening to music and talking, eating us out of house and home.
We always felt lucky when Aviva and her friends chose our house to use as a hang-out. Not only did we have a better idea of what they were up to, but they are interesting and engaged kids. They have opinions about what is going on in the world. They have something to say when we talk about books, religion and even politics. What I didn’t know, is that they are not unique.
In the spring of 2007, in partnership with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, we surveyed the entire senior class. Nearly every public and private school student participated. The survey was designed to give us information about whether exposure to the political process through mock election programs and other civic education opportunities affects students’ attitudes and behaviors. The survey gives us a great snapshot of our youngest citizens. Here is some of what we found:
As a group, the class of 2007 speaks out about politics. Sixty-four percent reported that “when political issues are discussed I have something to say.” Indeed, the majority, 53%, believed that they were “better informed about politics than most students.” Most of these young people also reported that they planned to be active in civic and political life in the future.
Sixty-eight percent said that they would certainly vote for president, with an additional 21% saying that they probably would vote for president. Not quite as many of this group were certain they would vote in a state election – with 55% saying they would certainly do this, and an additional 28% saying they would probably do this. Seventy-three percent of the class of 2008 said they would probably or definitely volunteer in the community at some time in the future and 47% said they would probably or definitely collect money for a social cause.
Our office worked with VSAC to survey Vermont seniors to help us measure whether our civics education and mock election programs are a good investment. Students reported that their education made a difference. Nearly 70% strongly agreed, agreed, or somewhat agreed with the statement that “my education helped me understand political issues.” About half of the students reported participating in a mock election program in high school. Forty-five percent reported going to a polling place with a parent, and nearly half of the students said they have met an elected official.
We asked students some specific questions about what they learned in school. The results indicated that schools were making headway in teaching kids the fundamentals of how to be engaged citizens. Fifty-six percent strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I learned how our elections work.” Forty-four percent strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I learned about individuals’ responsibility to community.” Forty-three percent strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I know how to research candidates for political office.” Thirty-nine percent strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I learned how to examine social problems.” Thirty-four percent strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I learned how political action groups can solve problems,” and 35% strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I learned ways of addressing community problems.”
What does this all really mean? Looking broadly at the responses, we have good reason to feel optimistic. These results tell us that this newest generation of Vermont adults will be more active and engaged than the ones before it. It also affirms the value of the Secretary of State’s civic education programs, and in particular, Vermont Votes for Kids mock election program which teaches kids the importance of voting to our democracy. When we invest in civics education we are investing in Vermont’s future!
 20% strongly agreed, 21% agreed and 23% somewhat agreed with this statement.
 13% strongly agreed, 15% agreed and 26% somewhat agreed with this statement.
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