Legally Incompetent to Vote
“All people with mental illness deserve a successful life in the community,” said Kimball of NAMI. “They deserve to be protected and have the same rights as other Americans. The right to vote is no different. Section 2209 of the Elections Act was also amended to require the judicial investigator to examine the conservator`s ability to communicate, with or without reasonable arrangements, the desire to participate in the voting process during the annual or biennial review of conservatories of certification, including limited conservatories. If the conservator was not allowed to vote because he was unable to communicate this wish or because he was unable to complete an affidavit of voter registration, and the investigator determines that the conservator is currently unable to communicate his desire to vote, the disqualification from voting may continue without a court hearing. Guardianship laws play a crucial role in the ability to vote. Since the year he skipped the election, he has taken someone to the polls to make them feel more comfortable, a decision he calls an “emotional safety blanket.” His wife of two years, Holly, and his personal caregiver will both go to the polls with him in November when he votes for President Barack Obama. There have been a number of barriers in the development and implementation of this program, the first of which was the lack of knowledge of these laws and the obligations of health facilities to assist patients who cannot be elected. Federal laws require that persons with disabilities not be discriminated against by private42,43 or public44,45 institutions or facilities receiving federal financial assistance.46 Therefore, health care providers must make reasonable changes to their policies and practices to ensure that patients who need assistance with the voting process receive it.19 At the time of this project, Volunteer GPs were not aware of this mandate and did not seek broader institutional support. Therefore, these efforts were primarily supported by the time and financial resources of the two volunteer medical practitioners who acted as voting substitutes. This lack of financial and administrative resources likely limited the scope of the program`s potential impact, as the majority of eligible patients asked hospital representatives to submit their ballots.
Depending on where patients were registered to vote, volunteers had to travel considerable distances to vote. In the case of psychiatric patients, hospital staff and patients themselves were uncertain about their right to choose when admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit. Recognizing that there was no system in place to facilitate inpatient voting and that hospitalization is often a barrier to full citizen participation, the Social Justice Coalition (an interprofessional organization at Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, MA) aimed to expand access to elections for inpatients. The organization focuses on promoting equity and improving the social, cultural, economic, environmental and political health of the communities it serves. Patients admitted to hospital near election day in 2016 were given the opportunity to vote. Although all hospitalized patients were invited, the resident psychiatrists leading this initiative (J.A.O., J.B.M.) took a particular interest in the legal issues raised to help inpatient psychiatric patients exercise their right to vote. Lewis Bossing, senior counsel at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, disagrees. “There`s no reason to impede someone`s right to vote just because it may have happened at some point in the past,” he said. General psychiatrists are uniquely positioned to remove barriers to voting for people with mental illness by raising community awareness of these rights and facilitating the opportunity to vote. To do this, general psychiatrists need to be familiar with state laws relating to the right of people with intellectual disabilities to vote in the jurisdiction in which they practice, particularly in states with specific legal guidelines, in order to determine whether a person is eligible to vote. In addition, guardians should be reminded that the person retains certain abilities, including the ability to vote, unless otherwise specified.
The reason for wanting to vote for someone is sometimes as simple as “She made me happy,” which is why Daniel Holm, a Nebraska man with Down syndrome, said he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. All U.S. citizens have a state-guaranteed right to vote, but those under guardianship may not have that right. Although things are slowly changing, some states still deny citizens the right to vote if they have been declared mentally incompetent, and this automatically includes anyone under guardianship, whether or not they are unable to vote.