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The difficult access of the elderly to the vote: the “unthought” of a “social exclusion”

“It’s too complicated !” : for many voters weakened by age, whether they live at home or in nursing homes, voting for the presidential election seems out of reach without support, but society is struggling to mobilize to help them, regret associations. “I’ve always voted. But since I’ve been in a retirement home, I don’t even know where I’m registered,” sighs Marie-Thérèse Schverer, 94, who uses a wheelchair and lives in an nursing home in Saint -Pierre, in the Alsatian countryside.

“Voting is a private matter, but our role is also to help residents access it”

In this small establishment of 48 residents, the management distributed in each room a written document to remind the dates of the poll. “If you need help, information or encounter any other difficulties, you can ask your relatives or the reception of your establishment”, specifies the brief letter. The local gendarmerie has planned to travel to establish any proxies on the spot, and on the day of the election a facilitator from the establishment will accompany residents who wish to do so to the entrance of the voting booth, explains the director, Rebel Abi-Kenaan.

“Voting is in the private sphere, but our role is also to help residents access it if they wish,” he analyzes. Despite everything, for many seniors, “it’s not a very simple course”, recognizes the director.

“Civic Dropout”

In 2017, only 8.7% of voters aged 70 to 74 abstained in both the presidential and legislative elections, but this proportion reached 30.3% of those over 80, according to INSEE: figures that reflect a “civic dropout beyond the age of 80”, analyzes Jean-Philippe Viriot Durandal, sociologist at the University of Metz. This phenomenon is perhaps correlated with the loss of autonomy of the seniors concerned, but also, more generally, with “a feeling, among the elderly, of being now strangers to the world around them”, underlines this specialist in questions related to aging and citizenship.

At any age, everyone is naturally free to abstain, observes the academic, but “the problem is when the non-participation in the vote is not a choice, but rather a feeling of incapacity “. “It is not only from the political class that these elderly abstentionists feel distant, but from society as a whole”, according to him. This reflects “the culmination of a form of social exclusion”, which nevertheless remains an “unthought” and “a non-subject in public debate”, regrets the sociologist.

“Vote for me!”

Convinced that it is necessary “to act to give a voice back to isolated elderly people”, the Saint-Vincent de Paul Society, a charitable association, has just launched a poster campaign where anonymous elderly people proclaim “vote for me!” : it is a question of encouraging the French to propose to their “parents, grandparents, neighbors or simple acquaintances” to establish a power of attorney for them. “In the countryside, some elderly people do not have a car and cannot move around. We can offer them to accompany them to the polling station”, underlines Michel Lanternier, the president of the association, for whom “there is there is a real democratic issue here.

For the AD-PA association, which brings together directors of retirement homes and home help structures, one of the solutions could be to grant vulnerable seniors specific hours of help to accompany them on the day of the election. Or to install polling stations in nursing homes, rather than in schools. In the meantime, “as usual the State is discarding itself on professionals, who are not numerous enough, and on families”, observes Pascal Champvert, the president of the association.

The seniors, who “remain citizens until the end of their lives”, however do not all have their families with them, notes Claudette Brialix, of the organization of families of elderly people Fnapaef. “Families who come to pick up the elderly person to take them to vote, it’s not that common,” she said. And sometimes, the children themselves are also abstentionists, “so why would they worry about their parents going to vote?”.

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