Group-home staff took illiterate, developmentally disabled resident to vote

Laura Byrne Contributor
Font Size:

Cecil Pearson is “shocked” his daughter voted for Barack Obama in November, but not for a typical reason: Darlene, Pearson’s daughter, is intellectually disabled and functionally illiterate, and lives with five other women in a group home operated by Easter Seals.

“We are here to support the individual’s rights and we help them exercise their rights as adults,” Jeff Smith, Easter Seals chief communication officer, told The Daily Caller.

“We we were providing the support for those individuals based on their community involvement and desires, and in this case their desire was to vote.”

In the state of North Carolina, Darlene can vote, marry and enter into contracts, despite a court ruling in 1995 declaring her incompetent.

“Its not my role to refute law or otherwise,” Smith told TheDC, “They are individuals and they have the same rights. … They were fully in their right to vote.”

But Darlene’s father said that as her legal guardian, he should have been notified.

“My wife and I became her legal guardians in 1996 to prevent exploitation like this,” Pearson told the Carolina Journal. “We were not consulted. She is not capable of making an informed choice, and as her guardians we would not have approved it.”

According to the North Carolina Board of Elections records, Darlene has been registered to vote since 1995 but November’s election marked the first time she has actually voted. Staff from Darlene’s group home took her to a Division of Motor Vehicles office in 1995 to get a photo identification card.

That day, with the assistance of the Moter-Voter law, she also registered to vote.

“Our job is to support them in living a full and active life,” Smith told TheDC. “We didn’t single out voting. It was just something else they wanted to do in the community.”

On Nov. 2, Darlene and other women in the group home were transported in a van to an early voting site in Roanoke Rapids. Assisted by a Halifax County election board employee, Darlene cast her vote curbside.

Pearson claims Darlene is incapable of making this important decision on her own, so someone else must have decided how she would vote.

But Smith insisted that Easter Seal’s staff did not help their residents vote, nor were they present when they cast their ballots.

“We didn’t influence them, nor did we know who they voted for unless they chose to share that,” he said.

Halifax County Elections Board Chairwoman Marilyn Harris explained to the Carolina Journal, “We had a registered voter who presented herself to vote. She asked for assistance and she was allowed to vote.”

Pearson wrote in an email to Easter Seals President Connie L. Cochran, “I know who my daughter voted for and I also know that when I asked who else she replied that she did not know. … [A]lso of interest to me is the fact she CANNOT read other than ‘a dog, cat and such simple words.'”

Follow Laura on Twitter

Laura Byrne