The right to vote is an important cornerstone of our democracy, yet people who live with mental illnesses often face barriers to voting. The law says that if you are a person with a mental disability and understand what it means to vote, federal law protects your right to vote.
Learn your rights. Register to vote. Fight discriminatory laws. Make your voice heard.
The nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition (also available en español) answers questions about the voting process—from registering to vote to finding polling places to assistance with voting problems. Free support is available by phone at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1 (866) 687-8683) and 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota (1 (888) 839-8682) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is a national legal-advocacy organization representing people living with mental illness. Their pocket guide, VOTE: It's Your Right, explains how federal laws protect the voting rights of people with disabilities and includes a chart of state laws affecting the voting rights of people with disabilities
People with psychiatric disabilities sometimes lose the right to vote because of state law voter competence requirements or because election officials, poll workers or service providers improperly impose their own voter competence requirements.
On the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects the rights people living with disabilities, mental health advocates in Kansas are celebrating clearing the first hurdle in an effort to remove stigmatizing language from the Kansas Constitution.
The current Kansas Constitution states: “The legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution.”
The proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1622, would eliminate language that currently singles out persons living with mental illness by using the disability as a disqualification to vote. SCR 1622, if enacted, would remove three words, “mental illness or,” from the constitutional provision.
Both houses of the Kansas Legislature approved the measure almost unanimously after a three-year advocacy campaign lead by the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.The Coalition took on the issue as a major platform releasing position papers, providing testimony to the legislature and encouraging a strong grassroots effort.
After passing the legislature, the amendment must be put to a popular vote in the upcoming general election.
“We passed the legislative hurdle, but now we must concentrate on the public information campaign,” said Rick Cagan, executive director of NAMI Kansas and member of the coalition.Cagan sees the upcoming general election as an opportunity to set an example for other states, create awareness and ultimately help mental health advocacy in the future.
The coalition now seeks to determine the projected outcome of SCR 1622 through voter opinion polls.Gauging public readiness is part of a broader campaign to show that mental health is essential to overall health, and to stress the importance of ending the stigmatization of people who live with mental illness.