Press Releases

Discrimination Upheld in Maine

NAMI Decries Maine Referendum Vote Supporting Constitutional Provision Restricting Voting Rights Of Persons With Mental Illness

Nov 06 1997

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) today expressed shock and dismay about a decision by Maine voters to retain a provision in the state's Constitution prohibiting individuals under guardianship due to mental illness from voting. A referendum on the Maine ballot recommending the repeal of this provision was defeated Tuesday by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.

Laurie Flynn, NAMI's executive director, said that the vote illustrates the still-accepted discrimination against people with schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness and other brain disorders.

"Laws prohibiting persons with severe mental illnesses from voting are undemocratic, discriminatory, and should not be tolerated," Flynn said. "The fact that people are under guardianship does not mean that they are incapable of voting. The Maine results show that we have a long way to go in educating the public that severe mental illnesses are highly treatable, and that people who suffer from these disorders are capable of making informed choices at the ballot box."

The initiative was placed on the ballot after the Maine legislature voted overwhelmingly during its last session to repeal the constitutional provision. Maine Governor Angus King also supported repeal. Forty other states and the District of Columbia currently have laws on the books barring certain individuals with mental disabilities from voting.

"Maine's approach is particularly distressing because it imposes blanket prohibitions on voting, regardless of why the guardianship has been established," said Ron Honberg, NAMI’s legal affairs director. Maine's law limits the prohibition on voting only to persons under guardianship due to mental illness. No such prohibitions exist for persons under guardianship due to other types of conditions.

Proponents of voting restrictions such as that in Maine argue that these laws exist because persons under guardianships due to mental illnesses may be particularly subject to undue influence or coercion in the voting process. However, protections against fraud or coercion can be addressed through anti-bribery or anti-coercion statutes which exist in most states.

With more than 168,000 members, NAMI is the nation’s leading grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other anxiety disorders. NAMI has more than 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada. NAMI’s efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for non-discriminatory and equitable federal, state, and private-sector policies; research into the causes, symptoms, and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma surrounding severe mental illness.