Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Something I Hadn't Ever Considered ...

... until the New York Times brought it up.

It's pretty hard to pass by an article with this kind of headline: "States Face Decisions on Who Is Mentally Fit to Vote". Cheap-shot jokes about the mental fitness of those who cast their votes for George W. Bush in 2004 aside, the issue is certainly an interesting one. We don't bar the blind from voting, or quadraplegics. If mental illness is just that, an illness (and therefore a form of disability), should the sufferers of that illness be barred? Does it make a difference if the diagnosed mental illness is obsessive compulsive disorder? Alzheimer's? What about cases in which the citizen is determined by a court to be incompetent when it comes to money decisions, requiring the appointment of a guardian for that purpose? Does that mean that citizen should have his voting rights lifted as well? What about those adjudicated as criminally insane? The NY Times article suggests these are the kinds of questions that various states are finally having to deal with:

The issue is drawing attention for two major reasons: increasing efforts by the mentally ill and their advocates to secure voting rights, and mounting concern by psychiatrists and others who work with the elderly about the rights and risks of voting by people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Two possible solutions (both short on details, unfortunately) is described in the article:

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.” ...

[A] 2001 ruling in Maine, allowing people to vote if they understood the nature and effect of voting and could make a choice, was considered a model. How to assess such qualifications, however, is controversial.

The whole issue is a tough one, especially when elections tend to be so close and the risk of fraud in these cases is a very real potential. Still, disenfranchising a whole segment of the population because of some kind of mental incompetence just feels wrong to me.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow--talk about a slippery slope! Who gets to determine and how whether someone is "competent" to vote?

Not a good idea--I can just see Rove salivating at the idea of challenging the mental competency of all those retirees who want to vote to protect their Soc Sec--probably seem plum crazy to ol' Rover.

I cannot believe there is such a huge number than elections would hinge on whether some older person or mentally impaired individual casts a vote influenced by a caregiver or relative!

7:02 AM  

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