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Pat Davis is an owner and publisher of The Paper. He also serves as an Albuquerque City Councilor and former chair of the governor's cannabis legalization work group.

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As presidential candidates Donald Trump, 74, and Joe Biden, 77, fight tooth and nail to see who will become head honcho in the United States, both parties have to do well with the senior vote in New Mexico if they are going to win in the general election. Seniors vote—and a pandemic, hip replacement, bad knees and the aches and pains of aging won’t stop the “Gray Wave” of New Mexicans from voting in the November election. This past decade New Mexicans over age 65 were the fastest-growing sector of the state’s population, and that trend is expected to continue in the coming decades according to the Census Bureau. The elderly in America today have political clout beyond their numbers and have a lot of power to wield at the ballot box or mailbox.

President Trump’s response to the pandemic and how his response is interpreted by older voters could affect him heavily in the upcoming election. Over 40 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes, according to a New York Times database. At least 77,000 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults.

According to a Democratic report 11 residents died every hour and one resident was infected every minute by COVID-19 during July and August 2020. At a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions hearing on the federal government’s response to the pandemic, report author Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said, “This is an American tragedy. There’s no excuse for these numbers to keep going up. We should not allow the next couple of months to transpire and have the number of nursing home deaths or the nursing home case numbers go up again. That is not the America we should be.” The report also revealed that 700 nursing homes didn’t have the ability to test all residents or workers within seven days, as of Aug. 30. In addition, one in five nursing homes had reported shortages of aides and one in seven reported a shortage of nurses, according to the report.

America’s older generation has experienced massive change during their lives. Life has shown them how tragedy, wars, laws and pandemics can affect citizens and families without government and state support. Many seniors served in the Vietnam War, and many—both veterans and citizens alike—marched against that war. They were in Washington D.C. to hear Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech; they remember where they were when the Berlin Wall came down and when they heard Kennedy was shot; they had a front row seat to Watergate and Richard Nixon. They’ve marched for gay rights, for racial and gender equality, and their mothers and grandmothers were alive when the 19th Amendment passed 100 years ago and women got the right to vote in 1920. They heard firsthand accounts of the Great Depression and walking miles in snow to get to school.

Many of New Mexico’s “Gray Wave” parents told them of the prolonged and contentious time before the territory was admitted as the 47th state in 1912. Since joining the United States, the Land of Enchantment’s residents have voted 27 times in the presidential elections—15 times for Democrats and 12 times for Republicans through 2016. However, Democrats have now won six of the last seven presidential elections in the state. Tens of thousands of New Mexicans have already cast their ballots across the state in what may be shaping up to be a general election with a record turnout.

Members of the senior generation have raised kids, have grandkids and great grandkids. They care about their country, and they care about the world they will leave to future generations. They vote for what affects them, and they vote for the future of their children and their children’s children and the country. And they are growing; 10,000 of us turn 65 every day. If you are a political candidate in New Mexico, you want to keep this older group on your side. The nation’s older population votes, and they vote more than any other age bracket.

Why are older Americans more likely to vote than younger ones? This past year is full of things seniors will weigh in on with their vote. These include cuts to Social Security to pay for new spending and the budget crisis; affordable health care; fears about contracting the coronavirus; desire for increasing protections on nursing home residents during the coronavirus pandemic. They will support making available quality, affordable long-term care options available, including for home care and nursing homes. They have property tax bills and retirement plans to consider. They are more rooted in their communities and have the time to get to know their politicians.

Mobilizing organizations, from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to the Gray Panthers, inform seniors about their stake in public affairs and provide information about political issues that affect them, encouraging them to vote in national and local elections. Last month AARP endorsed a Democratic resolution to overturn President Trump’s payroll tax deferral, arguing that the deferral is “engendering uncertainty among older Americans and the general public about Social Security and its ability to pay promised benefits.”

A Pew Research Center study suggests 41 percent of voters 65 and older say they intend to vote at the polls on election day; another 18 percent say they’ll vote early in person while 40 percent say they’ll vote by mail. The latest data from the New Mexico’s Secretary of State’s Office indicates more than 71,000 ballots have already been cast in by voters in the state. We know that a lot of them belong to the “Gray Waves” of New Mexico. [ ]

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