Know Your Voting Rights

Disability Accommodations

Mental illness can lead to disability for some people. Voters with a psychiatric or other disability have the right to:

  • Vote privately and independently
  • Bring someone to help them vote
  • Get assistance from workers at the polling place

Some states and local areas offer other options to assist voters with disabilities, including:

  • Setting up mobile polling places at long-term care facilities
  • Providing transportation to the polls and identifying the accessibility of polling places, which is usually done by local organizations
  • Absentee voting, so you can receive and return your absentee ballot through the mail

Find out what kind of accommodations your state or territorial election office offers.

Your right to vote in your state

Sadly, there may be some people with mental health conditions who do not have the right to vote in their state. In most cases, if a person with mental illness does not have the right to vote, it is because of actions taken by a court of law.

Below is a list of state laws concerning people with mental illness and their right to vote. State laws are often written in legal terms that may be difficult to understand or offensive. We have provided definitions for some of the legal terms for informational purposes only.

Please note that the language used by many states includes outdated and offensive language that NAMI does not support.

Legal terms

Conservator—A person appointed by a court of law to have authority over another person’s affairs. Depending on the state, a conservator may have authority over property, business, or personal matters

Guardian—A person who has been given the legal right and duty to take care of another individual and/or that individual's property. Guardianships are granted when a person does not have certain legal rights, such as a minor, to take care of himself and his affairs

Idiot—A person with an intellectual disability

Incapacitated—Unable to work, move, or function due to a physical or mental disability

Insane—Lack of the ability to understand that prevents a person from having the mental capacity required by law to enter into a relationship, status, or transaction or that releases one from criminal or civil responsibility

Legally incompetent—Incapable due to a mental or physical condition

Mentally incompetent—Incapable due to a mental condition

Mental handicap—A mental disability that makes achievement unusually difficult

Unsound mind—Not mentally healthy or whole

Is your state one of the many that denies people with mental health conditions the right to vote? Follow the example of mental health advocates in Kansas in 2010 and ask your state elected officials to introduce a bill like this one to give back that right.

Select your state to learn about voting rights in your area:

Alabama

  • No person who is “mentally incompetent” shall be qualified to vote, unless the disability has been removed.
  • If a person is in a “limited guardianship,” a person retains all their legal rights which the court has not assigned to their limited guardian.

Alaska

  • No person may vote who has been judicially determined to be of “unsound mind” unless the disability has been removed.
  • A guardian may not stop a dependent from registering or voting.

Arizona

  • No person who is judged as an “incapacitated person” is allowed to vote.
  • Voter registration is cancelled if a person under guardianship is committed as an “insane person” in a court proceeding.

Arkansas

  • Registration to vote is cancelled if a person is found “mentally incompetent” by a court of competent jurisdiction.
  • A person retains the right to vote unless specifically limited or granted to the guardian by the court.
  • A guardian must get a court-order to prohibit voting.

California

  • A person shall be deemed “mentally incompetent,” and therefore disqualified from voting, if:

(1) the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person cannot communicate, with or without reasonable accommodations, a desire to participate in the voting process; and,

(2) a conservator is appointed, or the person has pled or been found “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

  • During the yearly or biennial review of a person under conservatorship is disqualified from voting if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that he or she cannot communicate, with or without reasonable accommodations, a desire to participate in the voting process.

Colorado

  • There is nothing in the state constitution stopping a person with mental illness from voting. 

Connecticut

  • There is nothing in the state constitution stopping a person with mental illness from voting. 
  • No “mentally incompetent” person shall be admitted as an elector.
  • The guardian or conservator of an individual may file a petition in probate court to determine competency to vote in a primary, referendum, or election.

Delaware

  • No person judged “mentally incompetent” or “incapacitated” shall have the rights as an elector.
  • When a person is judged “mentally incompetent” it refers to a specific finding in a judicial guardianship or equivalent proceeding, based on clear and convincing evidence that the individual has a severe cognitive impairment which prevents exercise of basic voting judgment.

District of Columbia

  • If a person is judged by a court of law to be “legally incompetent” the person is not qualified to be an elector.
  • A finding that a person is “incapacitated” is not considered a finding of legal incompetence. Such person retains all legal rights and abilities other than those expressly limited or curtailed in the order of appointment of a guardian or in a protective proceeding, or subsequent order of the court.

Florida

  • A person is not qualified to vote if judged to be “mentally incompetent” or “incapacitated” in this or any other state until the disability has been removed.
    • A resident of a residential facility who has reached his eighteenth birthday and is otherwise qualified to vote is eligible to vote, provided such person has not been judged mentally incompetent.
  • A person must be evaluated for voting disqualification at the guardianship proceedings.
    • The right to vote may not be delegated to a guardian.

Georgia

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” cannot register, remain registered, or vote unless the disability has been removed.
  • Guardianship is not a determination of the right to vote.
  • Administrators of facilities shall permit and reasonably assist patients:
    1. to obtain voter registration forms, and applications for absentee ballots, and absentee ballots;
    2. to comply with other requirements which are prerequisite for voting; and,
    3. to vote by absentee ballot if necessary.

Hawaii

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • “Incapacitated person” means an individual who, for reasons other than being a minor, is unable to receive and evaluate information or make or communicate decisions to such an extent that the individual lacks the ability to meet essential requirements for physical health, safety, or self-care, even with appropriate and reasonably available technological assistance.
  • Admission to a psychiatric facility itself does not modify or vary the right to vote.

Idaho

  • There is no law disqualifying a person living with mental illness from voting.
  • A mental health facility cannot deny the right to vote unless the right is limited by prior court order.

Illinois

  • There is no law stopping a person living with mental illness from voting.

Indiana

  • There is no law stopping a person living with mental illness from voting.

Iowa

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector.
  • A person who is incompetent to vote is disqualified from registering and voting.
  • A person under guardianship must be evaluated by the court for voting rights determination.

Kansas

  • There is no law stopping a person living with mental illness from voting.

Kentucky

  • A person judged to be “insane” or an “idiot” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • A person declared “incompetent,” but not declared “insane” retains the right to vote.
  • A person under guardianship or conservatorship retains the right to vote, unless a court specifically removes the right to vote.

Louisiana

  • A person’s right to vote may be suspended when judicially declared “mentally incompetent.”
  • An individual who has been judicially declared to be “mentally incompetent” may not vote. An individual who is only partially banned is allowed to vote unless there has been a specific suspension of the right to vote.
  • Patients in treatment facilities shall not be deprived of the right to vote because of status as a patient in a treatment facility. Determination of “incompetence” shall be separate from the judicial determination of whether the person is a proper subject for “involuntary commitment.”

Maine

  • A person under guardianship for reason of mental illness shall not be an elector.
  • Patients in psychiatric hospitals or residential care facilities have the right to vote, unless the chief administrative officer determines a need to restrict due to medical welfare, patient is judged “incompetent” and the finding is not reversed, or other law restricts the right, but not solely on admission to a psychiatric hospital or residential care facility.

Maryland

  • The state may regulate or prohibit the right to vote of a person under care of guardianship for mental disability.
  • A person may not lose the right to vote solely because of residency in a facility for a mental disorder.

Massachusetts

  • A person who is under guardianship and determined to be “incompetent” is disqualified from voting.
  • No person shall be deprived of the right to vote solely on the basis of admission or commitment to a mental health facility.

Michigan

  • The legislature may exclude a person from voting based on “mental incompetence.”

Minnesota

  • A person who is judged “insane “or “mentally incompetent” by a court is not eligible to vote.
  • A person under guardianship retains the right to vote, unless otherwise ordered by the court.
  • A person may not be deprived of the right to vote because of commitment or treatment.

Mississippi

  • A person judged “insane” or an “idiot” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • Admission, treatment or commitment does not deprive the person of the right to vote.

Missouri

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” or “incapacitated” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • A person under guardianship for mental disability retains the right to vote if capacity is demonstrated.

Montana

  • A person judged to be of “unsound mind” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed.

Nebraska

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed, and civil rights are restored.
  • Guardianship is not a determination of “legal incompetence.”

Nevada

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed. A medical director shall re-evaluate every six months to determine if sufficient cause remains to disqualify a person from voting.
  • No person admitted to a mental health facility shall be denied the right to vote, unless specifically found “incompetent” and finding is not reversed.

New Hampshire

  • There is no law stopping a person living with mental illness from voting.
  • No person shall be deemed “incompetent” to vote or to exercise any other civil right solely by reason of that person’s admission to the mental health services system.

New Jersey

  • A person judged “incapable of understanding the act of voting” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • A person who receives inpatient treatment may register and vote.

New Mexico

  • An individual who is unable to mark a ballot and concurrently also unable to communicate their voting preference cannot vote.
  • An “incapacitated person” for whom a guardian has been appointed retains all legal and civil rights except those which have been expressly limited by court order or have been specifically granted to the guardian of the court.

New York

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed.
  • Receiving services for a mental disability shall not deprive a person of right to vote, if otherwise qualified.

North Carolina

  • There is no law stopping a person living with mental illness from voting.
  • A person who is an adult client at a facility has the right to register and vote unless that right has been precluded by an unrevoked adjudication of “incompetency.”

North Dakota

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed.
  • A person under a guardianship may not lose the right to vote, except upon specific findings of the court.
  • Unless specifically restricted in writing every 14 days by a patient’s treating physician, all patients in treatment retain their right to vote.

Ohio

  • A person judged “insane,” or an “idiot,” or “mentally incompetent” for the purpose of voting by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • A person taken into custody voluntarily or involuntarily may vote unless found “incompetent.”

Oklahoma

  • A person is disqualified from voting if judged “incapacitated” or “partially incapacitated” and right to vote is restricted by a court unless the finding is reversed.
  • A court shall make a specific determination of the voting capacity of a person under guardianship or conservatorship.

Oregon

  • A person with a “mental handicap” is entitled to vote unless found “incompetent” and the finding is not reversed.
  • Every person with mental illness committed to the Oregon Health Authority shall have the right to vote, unless the person has been judged “incompetent” and has not been restored to legal capacity.

Pennsylvania

  • There is no law stopping a person living with mental illness from voting.
  • A person in an institution can choose to vote either in the institution district or district of their residence prior to admission.

Rhode Island

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • Patients admitted to a facility shall not be deprived of the right to vote and to participate in political activity solely by reason of admission.

South Carolina

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • Patients have the right to vote unless found “mentally incompetent.” County voter registration boards should also reasonably assist clients with obtaining registration materials and ballots.

South Dakota

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • Guardianship or conservatorship is not a determination of “legal incompetence.” A person retains the right to vote unless specifically granted to the guardian or conservator by the court.
  • A psychiatric hospital admission, treatment or commitment does not deprive the person of the right to vote.

Tennessee

  • There is no law disqualifying a person living with mental illness from voting. However, petition for conservatorship may include removal of the right to vote.
  • A person’s right to vote is retained during hospitalization and court ordered treatment, unless specifically removed as part of conservatorship.

Texas

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting.
  • Patients have the right to register and vote unless specific law limits rights under a special procedure.

Utah

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed or the right is restored. Qualification to vote shall be reviewed every 30 days.

Vermont

  • A person must be of “a quiet and peaceable behavior” to retain the right to vote.    
  • A person under guardianship retains the same legal and civil rights guaranteed to all Vermont residents.

Virginia

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” or “incapacitated” by a court is disqualified from voting unless the finding is reversed.

Washington

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting or registering to vote.
  • A person under guardianship shall not lose the right to vote, unless the court determines that the person is incompetent to vote.

West Virginia

  • A person judged of “unsound mind” or “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting or registering to vote, unless the finding is reversed.

Wisconsin

  • A person under guardianship or judged “mentally incompetent” or “partially incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed, or the court expressly determines that the person is competent to vote.
  • A person under limited guardianship must be evaluated by the court for a voting rights determination.
  • A person is not deemed incompetent to vote solely based on admission to a facility under the developmental disabilities and mental health chapter.

Wyoming

  • A person judged “mentally incompetent” by a court is disqualified from voting, unless the finding is reversed, or civil rights have been restored.

Source: Adapted from Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. (2016). State Laws Affecting the Voting Rights of People with Mental Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.bazelon.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2016_State-Laws-Affecting-Voting-Rights-of-PWD.pdf