It's Your Right: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law Urges People with Mental Disabilities to Register to Vote

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With Registration Still Open in Many States, Bazelon Highlights Voter Rights for People with Mental Disabilities

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy organization advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities, is urging people with mental disabilities to register to vote. Registration deadlines in many states are still open, with several offering on-site registration on Election Day, November 8, 2016*.

“People with mental disabilities represent millions of the U.S. population and their voices should be heard, so we’re urging them to get out and vote,” said Jennifer Mathis, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy for the Bazelon Center. “We also want to remind the public that people with mental disabilities have the same right to vote as others and should exercise this right. Volunteers at voting precincts, poll watchers, passers-by, employers, caregivers and government officials should not try to restrict a person with mental disabilities from casting a vote.”

The Bazelon Center’s advocacy has resulted in a number of states updating their voting laws to ensure that if a person with a mental disability can make a choice, that person can vote. New Mexico was the most recent state to change its laws to protect voting rights, following similar changes in California, Maryland and Nevada.

Mathis offers important tips for people with mental disabilities and their advocates on what to know when you register and go to the polls to vote:

  • People with mental disabilities HAVE the right to register to vote and cast their vote, just like every other United States citizen. People with mental disabilities registering to vote must meet their state’s requirements for all voters – but should ask for an accommodation if they need one.
  • If a state has competence requirements for voters, those requirements must be applied to ALL voters and not single out people with disabilities.
  • Generally, only a court can take away a person's right to vote.
  • If an individual’s right to vote is challenged at the polling station, the voter has the right to (and must be given) a provisional ballot.
  • People with mental disabilities CAN receive help to register and vote, by a helper of the person’s choice.
  • If a person with mental disabilities or an advocate needs additional support or resources, contact the “Protection and Advocacy” office in your state. Visit the National Disability Rights Network at http://www.ndrn.org to find your state’s “Protection and Advocacy” office.

In time for this critical presidential election, the Bazelon Center has issued a revised edition of its guide to the voting rights of people with mental disabilities, “VOTE. It's Your Right. Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities.” The guide lists key legal principles and focuses on four areas of concern: 1) voter-competence requirements, 2) state photo-ID laws, 3) voter challenges and 4) providing help to voters with disabilities. The guide also includes an updated chart listing each state's laws affecting the voting rights of people with mental disabilities. Other updated charts listing state laws affecting the right to vote are available at the Center’s website.

“VOTE. It's Your Right.” is available as a free PDF to download from the Bazelon Center's website, at: VOTE. It's Your Right. Guide to the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities. To obtain print copies, please email pubs(at)bazelon(dot)org.

About The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is a national legal advocacy organization protecting and advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities. The Center promotes laws and policies that enable people with mental disabilities to live independently in their own homes and communities, and to enjoy the same opportunities that everyone else does. For more information, visit http://www.bazelon.org.

*Upcoming Voter Registration Deadlines Still Open, by State (see attachment).

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Julie Rosenthal

Norma Kelly
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since: 07/2009
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