Maine Voting Rights Referendum and The 2000 Presidential Election
"I Vote, I Count" Voter Education & Registration Campaign
Statement of Mike Fitzpatrick, National Coordinator, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Nov 08 2000
NAMI is greatly disappointed that Maine voters have chosen to reject the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have removed a prohibition of the right to vote for people with mental illnesses subject to guardianship orders.
The Maine restriction is discriminatory. No other individuals age 18 or over have their right to vote restricted in this way. It ignores the scientific fact that mental illness does not necessarily equal incapacity to vote in elections. Guardianship orders typically are used to ensure proper medical care or to govern finances, and are not a reflection of a person's ability to understand political choices.
Earlier this year, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that such restrictions are an inherently suspect interference with a fundamental right. We remain convinced that such restrictions ultimately are unconstitutional under the federal constitution and federal voting rights laws. Significantly, we also note that a lawsuit challenging the Maine restriction is still pending in federal court.
It is especially disappointing for me personally that this rejection has occurred in my home state, where I once served in the state legislature. Maine citizens take pride in fairness. I am convinced the rejection of the amendment primarily reflects the need for greater public education about the nature of mental illnesses and the people who struggle with them. Mental illness can happen to anyone.
Denial of rights of citizenship is a denial of individual dignity. People with mental illnesses are members of communities and deserve to feel connected to them. The right to vote is an important connection. Without it, a person's identity may be unreasonably diminished and horizons for recovery cruelly limited.
The Maine vote contrasts with NAMI's national campaign in which thousands of people with severe mental illnesses, in states and communities across the country, registered to vote and participated in yesterday's elections. Given the closeness of the presidential race in key states, it is entirely possible that people with mental illnesses may help to make the difference, regardless of which candidate wins. That participation should be celebrated as an affirmation of democracy.
Every American counts. Every vote also counts. That is the principle that makes our country work. It includes people with mental illnesses.