Electric EDGE
Web Edition of
The Ragged Edge
Jan/Feb 1998

Electric Edge

"Mentally ill" with a guardian? Then you can't vote, says Maine
Activsts vow to push Constituional Amendment after defeat at polls

People who have custodians due to their mental illness are still unable to vote after the defeat of Amendment Question Five in Maine last November. State Rep. Michael Brennan, of Portland, ME sponsored the amendment after learning that local officials prevented four residents of a boarding house for the mentally ill from registering to vote when they disclosed they were under the trusteeship of a guardian.

Illustration, woman with surprised expression The amendment was meant to tidy up a loophole from an 19th-century law forbidding paupers and people with mental illness to vote (in 1965, paupers got the vote). People with guardians for other reasons -- Alzheimer's, autism -- have the vote in Maine; so do those in mental "hospitals." But those in the community and under guardianship are denied that right. Thirty-eight states restrict mentally ill people's voting rights, but only eight others deny the vote to people with mental illness under custody of a guardian.

Advocates are looking into legal action in wake of the defeat. They say the Americans with Disabilities Act can't help with what is a state Constitutional issue.

Defendents in two major murder cases in Maine were labeled 'mentally ill,' fueling public prejudices, and little money was spent on educating voters about the Amendment, says David Sturte-vant of Maine's Alliance for the Mentally Ill. He also blames the loss on low voter turnout and confusing wording on the ballot.

Even elected officals are seemingly ignorant of the issues involved.

State Rep. John Buck, R-Yarmouth told the Bangor Daily News that "I just can't imagine allowing somebody who's been declared mentally incompetent to vote."

Reported by Mike Reynolds.


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