We just completed national elections. Many of you exercised your right as a citizen to vote for the candidates of your choice.
But what about the people you support who have intellectual disabilities? Should they have the right to vote? Should their right to vote be limited based upon guardianship status or other measurements? If they do vote, how do we ensure they are not manipulated by people who support them?
Recently a North Carolina family questioned their daughter’s voting rights when support staff at the home where she lived helped her register to vote and took her to the polls. The parents, felt their daughter was unable to make an informed choice and should not have been able to vote.
The laws regarding voting for people with intellectual disabilities vary from state to state with some states clearly removing the right to vote for people with guardians:
“No person who has been adjudged mentally incompetent, unless restored to legal capacity, shall be entitled to the privilege of elector”
– Nevada state constitution electoral statutes
“The right to vote can be removed under a limited guardianship or conservatorship”
–Kentucky guardianship statutes 387.590(10)(11)
While other states have laws that ensure a person’s right to vote:
“The appointment of a guardian is not a determination regarding the right of the ward to vote.”
– Georgia guardianship statutes Art.3 29-4-20(b)
Organizations, such as Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, provide information on how to advocate for voting rights for people with intellectual disabilities. Their position statement clearly supports this right.
I have known people with disabilities who were well informed about the candidates and issues.
They clearly were making informed decisions when they voted. I’ve known others who would be unable to make an informed decision and in fact, would do whatever the person supporting them told them to do.
So how do we ensure the rights of people are not violated either by eliminating their right to vote or by manipulating them to vote when they are not able to make an informed choice?
I am not sure that a ‘one size fits all’ solution is the answer.
Although guardianship status may give an indication of a person’s ability to make decisions, it historically has been broadly applied rather than looking at each person and determining which areas of their life need assistance. Measurements such as IQ also may not provide a complete picture upon which to determine a person ability regarding voting.
In addition to determining if a person can make an informed decision, ensuring the decision is not manipulated by people in that person’s life is equally challenging. Is it possible that a person with a disability could be threatened if they do not vote in line with the wishes of the people they depend upon for support? What about when the people in their lives only allow access to information that supports one side of the issues? These issues and others only add to the debate about voter rights for people with intellectual disabilities.
There appears to be no easy answers to this issue but that does not mean we should do nothing. Rather, it means we need to open up the discussion and provide solid information to those who make the laws in this area.
Did you support someone who voted in the last election? If so, how did you ensure the integrity of their vote? What would you tell your elected officials in regards to the right to vote for people with intellectual disabilities?
Filed under: Innovation Tagged: | disabilities, Disability, elections, guardians, guardianship, intellectual disabilities, polls, register, right, self advocates becoming empowered, support, vote, voting