Sunday, October 14, 2012

Should daughter help her father vote?

If you had a chance to guarantee that at least one person wouldn't vote against your preferred candidate, would you take it? What if that prospective voter were your elderly father whose care is partially entrusted to you?

In the past year, a reader has relocated her 87-year-old father from the state in which he was living to a senior-living facility near her home. She writes that he has been diagnosed with short-term memory loss and moderate to severe dementia.

"For example," she writes, "he doesn't usually know his own age, the month of the year, the season, or the name of the current president." But he does read the newspaper on most days and maintains "pleasant social interactions."

The reader has managed her father's finances for several years. Since he moved closer to her, she has managed his medical and health care issues, as well.

The facility where her father resides recently distributed absentee ballot applications to all residents. The reader notes that her father is unable to fill out the application on his own. "I really doubt if he could complete the ballot without assistance," she writes. "I know he couldn't handle voting in person. But he has always voted, and I might add, along strict party lines."

So here's the reader's quandary as she sees it: Should she help her father fill out the absentee ballot? Should she help him vote even though, as she observes, he doesn't know who the current president is?

"If I ask him, 'Do you want to vote for the Republican or the Democrat?' I know what he will say. But it seems to me he is no longer capable of making a rational decision."

She adds that her and her father's political affiliations are opposite one another. "I'm wondering," she writes, "if the thought of his vote canceling out my vote is influencing my uneasiness."

While it would be lovely to believe that all voters make rational decisions, are educated about the candidates or are in full control of their faculties when they cast their votes in an election, it's a safe bet that that's not the case. The reader is not obligated to help her father fill out the application for his absentee ballot nor is she obligated to assist him in remembering to cast that ballot in time to be counted in the upcoming election. But she shouldn't do anything to dissuade him from voting, particularly if she's motivated by the knowledge that his vote is likely to cancel her own out.

It's clear that she cares for her father and knows that voting is important to him. That she is wrestling with the question suggests she knows the right thing to do in this situation and that's to ask her father first if he wants to vote in this election and then to offer him assistance by telling him what he has to do to attain his absentee ballot and to fill it out in time to be counted. If he decides not to vote, that's his choice. But so, too, is whether he asks his daughter for help. If he asks, it seems right to offer assistance even if the outcome that goes against how his daughter might have cast her ballot. In the end, offering help in this case stops short of making any decision for him. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Anonymous said...

Unless I am misreading this question, it would appear although the questioner's father has certain mental restrictions, she says he can voice he wants to vote and she knows his party affiliation. The fact that the questioneer knows she and her father would be voting for different sides, and that this would cancel out their votes, she hesitates going through with helping her father cast his vote. Sounds like she is torn between doing the right thing and doing the political thing. I vote for her to allow her father to cast his right to vote through the assistance of his less than honest daughter!

Charlie Seng

William Jacobson said...

Is there really a question on whether it would be right for a daughter to suppress her fathers vote to further her own self interest? Assuming that the father is actually interested in voting, it would be the height of selfishness for the daughter to intentionally disenfranchise her father simply because she disagrees with his politics. Her father entrusted her with his financial and health decisions because he believed that she would properly look out for HIS interests. This is no different. Now is the time for your reader to pay her father back for a lifetime of selflessness in raising her by helping him fill out his absentee ballot. She might also want to teach her daughter this lesson as the tables will surely be turned sooner than she expects. Our parents gave us the world... how could we give them back any less...

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

Both reader responses are quite correct and better than any I could come up with.
How any honest person could think differently is a surprise.
If she knows how dad would vote, then just do it. Would she expect differently from him????
Just like donating to a charity or buying a gift. If it is his choice, do it his way.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.