By Stuart Spielman, Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel for Autism Speaks
As Election Day 2012 draws nearer, many in the autism community have asked us for clarification on the voting rights of people with autism. Key issues are competence, legal guardianship and voter assistance.
The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law recently surveyed state laws affecting the voting rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and people receiving mental health treatment. The Center's findings are summarized here.
Bazelon and the National Disability Rights Network have published a guide that identifies key legal principles for voting rights, including the following:
• A state does not need to require a voter to demonstrate competence, and some states don’t.
• If a state chooses to impose a voter-competence requirement, that requirement cannot be so broad that it takes away the right to vote of people who are capable of voting. It cannot single out a particular group of voters, such as people who are the subject of guardianship proceedings.
• In virtually all states, only a court can find that a person is not competent to vote.
• Questions about a voter’s competence can form the basis for a voter challenge only under very limited circumstances, if at all. Most states’ laws restrict the grounds on which a voter may be challenged, the people who may bring a challenge and the types of evidence that can form the basis for a challenge. Many states do not permit any voter challenges based on competence.
• People with disabilities have the right to get help with voting and to decide who will help them vote. A person with a disability can get help from a friend, family member, caregiver, residential service provider or almost anyone else of his or her choosing except an employer or union member. The person can also ask a poll worker for assistance with voting.
For questions about voting rights, contact the Bazelon Center at: 202-467-5730.
The Bazelon Center and the National Disability Rights Network created three model motions guardians can use to modify their guardianship order to restore voting rights. They can be found here.