Developmentally Disabled Voting

We have a little bit of a quandary at Chez Jayjayfreak at the moment, and supervenusfreak is going to be researching this in the coming week or so, but I wanted to put it out here, too.

Supervenusfreak’s brother is autistic and developmentally disabled (he is about the level of a 9-year-old…his chronological age is 30). He’s expressed an interest in voting this year (he’s excited about Obama).

I almost put this in GQ, asking what the law concerning developmentally disabled persons voting was in Pennsylvania, but I realized that supervenusfreak would find that out eventually anyway, so I put this in IMHO to find out what everyone’s state law says about it. And if someone from PA who knows the details comes in and posts, all the better!

So…what does your state (or federal law, if it has anything to say about this) say about allowing developmentally disabled persons (who are generally minors, mentally and emotionally) to vote?

I currently live & vote in Virginia. Here you cannot vote if you have been declared mentally incompetent by the courts.

I was raised (and first voted in) California. They also deny the vote to those declared mentally incompetent by the courts.

According to this cite, your state (Pennsylvania?) is one of the few states which does not have a similar rule disenfranchising those who have been declared mentally incompetent.

To register to vote in Alabama, you must: “Not have been declared legally incompetent by a court.” I don’t know if developmentally disabled people are routinely declared “legally incompetent” or not.

I ran across a websitethat indicates that Pennsylvania has no “barriers for persons with mental disabilities”.

This is somewhat anecdotal, but I live in Pennsylvania and have worked at the polls during a few elections. During the last presidential election a large van pulled up and about 8 or so individuals with varying degrees of disabilities (both physical and mental and both) came in and voted, with the assistance of their personal care aides. All lived in an independent living facility nearby. They were all officially registered and provided with voting assistance, which included having the ballots read to them or someone else actually touching the screen.

I also know that my mother-in-law completed an absentee ballot for her 98 year old mother who has significant Alzheimer’s disease, and this is common practice in the nursing home.

My family moved to Florida in the early 90s. One day, when we were grocery shopping, we encountered a voter registration table inside the local Winn Dixie. Mom explained that my 20-year-old sister couldn’t register because of a mental disability. The woman informed her that it was no problem – my mom could help her fill out the ballot!

Mom politely declined the woman’s offer; she didn’t think it was fair to get an extra vote for herself by letting my sister register. But I have to wonder if the same thing happened in other locations.

If he can’t vote legally, see if you can set up with the local elections board where he fills out a sample ballot, and gets the experience of voting - even if it is not added to the official pool. Something the elections board might do for a bunch of fourth graders, if the board had time.

Whether he votes in a legal sense or not, it might be best to have him vote absentee, or by mail, or through “early voting”. In my county (Fairfax County, VA) one can do absentee voting before the election by going to designated county government offices and using voting machines set up for just that purpose. Check with your locality.

I’ll leave it to your judgment, and supervenusfreak’s, whether it would be better for her brother to really vote, pretend vote, think he’s really voting when he’s not, or not vote at all. I don’t envy you the task of explaining to him that his candidate lost, should that happen.

I’m not thrilled with the idea of someone who is not a mentally competent adult voting, even if he’s voting for “my” guy (this time). But if the law in PA allows it, I can’t do anything about that.

Interesting info about Virginia’s rules upthread. When Dweezil is of age (he’s mildly autistic), we may have to have him declared our legal dependent, but I don’t know if that includes getting him declared incompetent. He’s not - he’s fairly age appropriate, but socially clueless in the extreme.

Dweezil’s a huge Obama fan as well. Registering a web domain for “Autistics for Obama” would just be another punch in my ticket on the express handbasket to hell, wouldn’t it?

In Massachusetts, if someone is presumed mentally competent (i.e., they have not gone through a court process and psycho-developmental evaluation which then declares them unable to be their own guardian), then they can vote. When I worked with that population, we tried very hard to encourage people to vote—their lives were affected by the outcome of the elections just as anyone else’s, right? Maybe even more so, with cuts to social service programs often being an issue in elections.

It was a difficult line to draw, trying our best to help someone really understand the issues but not explaining it in a way that would sway their opinion. (“This guy wants to cut the funding that pays for independent living programs” as opposed to “If this guy wins, you might have to move somewhere else”—hugely different take-aways). Part of community inclusion, though, is living up to one’s rights and responsibilities, including the civic duty/privilege of voting.

He can only be your dependent if he’s mentally incompetent to make his own decisions.

In Massachusetts, at least, being ‘socially clueless’ may or may not make the grade for legally incompetent. Does he understand basic safety? Does he have a concept of the value of money? (One of the questions that caused some of my folks to “fail” the competency eval was about rent—one woman though that her rent was “around a dollar a month” while another thought it was “a lot…that’s all I know.”) Around here, also, you can have full guardianship or limited guardianship. Some of my clients had medical guardians, who made the decisions about medical care (including mental health) but had no other power.

I wonder though, if the registration board bothers to check these sorts of things. Is there some kind of national database to reference?