Thursday, June 21, 2007

Insane Enough to Vote?

Unfortunately there appears to be an effort on the part of some in state government to curtail or limit the voting rights of those who they deem mentally unfit to vote. The main focus of these arguments is that people under guardianship for mental illness do not possess the capacity to vote. If there were some voting competency test, I know quite a few people that would not be voting or holding office for that matter. Should people who have been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity be allowed to vote? How about people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, should they be allowed to vote?

This summer, recommendations for national standards will be released by a group of psychiatrists, lawyers and others led by the American Bar Association, suggesting that people be prevented from voting only if they cannot indicate, with or without help, “a specific desire to participate in the voting process.”[1]

I find this standard to be a fair criterion for accessing one’s ability to vote. I think that if a person has a real desire to take part in the voting process and can without help indicate that desire, they should be allowed to vote. The problem occurs when voting standards are set up to determine if a person is competent to vote. Any voter competency test will be fraught with danger and sure to be misused by those wanting to limit the access of these people to vote. To go any further would require that we use the same set of standards for all voters or it could be used in a discriminatory fashion.

CRANSTON, R.I. — Behind the barbed wire and thick walls of the state mental hospital here are two patients who have not been allowed to live in the outside world for 20 years. Both were found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
Still, they have voted in elections nearly every two years, casting ballots by mail. Now, however, election officials are taking steps that could ban them from voting, arguing that state law denies the vote to people with such serious psychiatric impairments.
“I just think if you are declared insane you should not be allowed to vote, period,” said Joseph DeLorenzo, chairman of the Cranston Board of Canvassers. “Some people are taking these two clowns and calling them disabled persons. Is insanity a disability? I have an answer to that: no. You’re insane; you’re nuts.”

How will we determine who is competent? Shall we have them discuss the candidate’s platform or positions on various issues? Shall we have a voter IQ test administered at the polls? How many of us could pass such test for every election we vote in? I don’t advocate that anyone be allowed to vote, I believe to maintain the integrity of elections there has to be some criteria. However, how many severely mentally ill people even want to vote? Most of my experience with the people who suffer from extreme mental illness they have no desire to vote or to participate in the political process. Anyone that has a capacity and a desire to want to vote should be given atleast the opportunity to vote, if possible.

I am a firm believer and advocate for the expansion of voting, not the shrinking of it. With all the voter apathy we have today, we should be developing ways to bring more people into the political process, not fewer. If someone is astute enough to consider voting as their right and they can do it, I say why not. They can’t do any worse than the rest of us. I mean, who is going to determine a voter’s competency?

State laws vary and are inconsistently applied, said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, an advocacy group in Washington. Ms. Mathis said most states fell into one of two categories. About 18 bar voting by people under guardianship or who are “non compos mentis” (“not master of one’s own mind”), a determination that is often not clearly defined. Another 18 prevent voting if there is a specific determination that people lack voting competence.[3]

For the most part the criteria used today by states are vague and could be used to prevent almost anyone from voting. As our population ages and more of us are dealing with age specific mental illness, these vague voting statues could be used to prevent thousands of seniors from voting. There are many seniors that are under guardianship, but still maintain their faculties. We must be very careful in a democracy anytime we talk about limited the rights of anyone to vote. Today, it may be the ex-cons, the mentally challenged, and the handicapped; who will it be tomorrow?

[2] Ibid


Homeland Colors said...

i don't think that those who are not sane and can't rationally chose a candidate should be able to vote, but i'm so afraid of any type of test that would be used to determine who's competant would be misused that i'd rather have the insane vote than the sane disenfranchised. I don't trust people who are obsessed with the "wrong" people voting.

M. James said...

Read the referenced article. We don't need more voters, we need competent voters.

Forgiven said...

And who is to determine competency? There are few "sane" adults that can tell you who are the representatives in Congress or who their Senators are...Yeah we need competency tests alright, I wonder who would be left to vote? White male property owners, perhaps?

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