Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mental Illness and the Right to Vote.

“I just think if you are declared insane you should not be allowed to
vote, period,” said Joseph DeLorenzo, chairman of the Cranston Board of
Canvassers. “Some people are taking these two clowns and calling them disabled
persons. Is insanity a disability? I have an answer to that: no. You’re insane;
you’re nuts.”

Rhode Island is among a growing number of states grappling with the
question of who is too mentally impaired to vote. The issue is drawing attention
for two major reasons: increasing efforts by the mentally ill and their
advocates to secure voting rights, and mounting concern by psychiatrists and
others who work with the elderly about the rights and risks of voting by people
with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Can I cringe long and hard now? The mentally ill shouldn't vote? What's a mental illness? Anyone who's had an episode of depression or mania? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? How about those panic attacks? And we can't figure out at what instant someone with dementia becomes unsafe to drive, how do figure out the instant at which they should stop voting? Anyone confined to a psychiatric facility? Anyone getting disability payments for a psychiatric disorder?

Dumb people can vote. Illiterate people can vote. Republicans can vote. Ugly people can vote. Why should the mentally ill have a standard different from anyone else's?


Kathryn Rhinehart said...

Oy indeed. [long time listener, first time caller :)] As a patient who has received disability payments and been hospitalized due to depression...this is a very scary slope. I'm a highly intelligent, well-educated person who just happens to have a chemical imbalance in my brain. I'm probably a more informed voter than half of those who don't have a mental illness. As you said, they allow Republicans to vote. ;) Why should I be under a different standard?

N=1 said...

What's being conflated is mental illness with severe impaired cognition AND judgment. The underlying assumptions are wrong.

What might be a more legitimate idea is to limit voting if one has a guardian for the purpose of making legal decisions, such as in the case of severe and debilitating dementia. Maybe. I'm not sure that it's even necessary.

But other questions would be how many people are in that population? How would that be regulated? And really, how many people would this affect, anyway? I have yet to hear about any severely cognitively and judgmentally impaired person trying to vote.

The issue smacks of legitimizing stigma of mental illness and of trying to eliminate voters who might tend to vote other than Republican. Voter suppression strikes again.

You know where I think it will meet a lot of resistance? In returning military personnel who are struggling with PTSD and mental illness - it will be seen as a smear on patriotism, and I think this attempt will backfire. Who's going to tell veterans they can't vote because of a diagnosis of PTSD?

Anonymous said...

Intact judgment does not appear to be a necessary criteria for much else in this world. And I assure you there are many people with horrible judgment who vote.

I don't think there is a line to be drawn here that isn't stigmatizing. One can have a guardian for legal decisions, and I think that if someone still wishes to cast a ballot, they should be allowed to do so. We don't insist on literacy or that a voter know anything at all about the candidates or their platforms. One can be quite psychotic and still be informed about current events and political candidates. One can be mentally healthy and clueless. Or dumb or ugly or uninterested.

Plenty of people cast votes for candidates they know nothing about. If the issue was to require some minimal level to show one is informed, that would be one thing, but to pick out those with mental illnesses, that is stigmatizing and intolerable.

Most severely demented people are not aware of election day and are not asking to go to the polls. If they are, they should go and be allowed to vote.

My Republican comment was a joke. I know of no studies that show that the mentally ill are more likely to be Democrats, and I don't think this has anything to do with keeping non-republicans from voting (funny, but Republicans get mental illnesses as well).

Anonymous said...

I agree. I posted a long-ass entry about this on my blog, but the shortened version is that this would be in some ways analagous to asking women to pass a physical test to become a firefighter, but not asking men to - because women are suspect anyway so they have to prove it. (Even though a few of the men wouldn't pass the test, it's not seen as necessary to test them, because they're seen as appropriate for the job.)

I think one path toward a solution might be to encourage legislation about competency and the mentally ill to also include the elderly, and the temporarily disabled, etc., all the people who might be upset to find themselves under question for competency, even when it was okay when it was just crazy people.

ClinkShrink said...

Interesting thought. Does this mean that a demented President would not be allowed to vote for himself?

Anonymous said...

I am a recent listener and first time writer, and I completely disagree with defining who is mentally fit to vote. n=1 and Katie are completely on point -this is outright scary. I am a grad Psy.D. student, suffer from chronic lyme disease & post Graves disease (both have cognitive impact). I am surprised to learn that some are interested in discussing whether or not I should vote simply because I have a mind disease that I had no control over acquiring.
I love to listen just so I can learn from you (already have) and sound even more intelligent when responding to issues that arise everyday in my school surrounding the subjects you discuss. Thanks for your thoughts!

Roy said...

Joseph DeLorenzo above is clearly an idiot; should he be allowed to vote?

Are there any laws preventing people with "mental retardation" or dementia to vote? I guess I'm preaching to the choir, but where do you stop? Should we put breathalyzers and pee tests in every voting booth? Perhaps an IQ test before each vote?

I figure that any "fringe" votes get lost in the mass of votes, so there is no need to disenfranchise certain people due to mental capabilities, even if "they're nuts." All need representation.

Perhaps Amendment 28 to the US Constitution could read:
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of mental ability.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

...but then, that would negate Amendment 26.

Ladyk73 said...

I think Clinkshrinks thoughts on dementia and presidency is a very striking example. Being the future social work type, I also see a loose connection to the stigma of poverty as well (as in those with illness and poverty may be easier to identify due to public benefits they may receive).

However, I do have an additional thought regarding this. I work with the MRDD population here in NY. My "consumers" with MR have documented IQs (or functional disabilties that meet MR critera) ranging between 50-65. Knowing these individuals, I feel they (perhaps in their innocent sense of right and wrong) would make better election choices than the community at large,

Anonymous said...

I think it was very nice of Dinah to let everyone vote on her novel without knowing their GAF score.

rachdickey said...

I can't believe this issue is even being talked about. Mental disease is just that, a disease and we don't discriminate against those with other disabilities why choose this one? This would just lead to less people getting help that they so desperately need.
THanks for posting,

Anonymous said...

Just saw this post and felt the nausea coming up...

It seems there are only two classes of people that can be ostracized now: the mentally ill and the obese. Since I've always been heavy and recently diagnosised with BPD II, I'm about as popular as W.

Mental illness is a disease. I inherited it from my family like my eye color and potential for diabetes. When I realized I was having problems, I sought help. I've always been active in my community, aware of current events, and have voted in every election since I was 18. Does my recent diagnosis deny everything else I've ever been?

Until mental health disorders are accepted as the genetic based diseases that they are, the stigma and stupidity that goes along with it will be with us.

I worry for us all.

Alison Cummins said...

Back in the day, when state laws restricting the right to vote based on whether or not a person belonged to the African diaspora had been struck down, literacy requirements appeared in their place.

On the face of it, there is a theoretical basis for the requirement that a person be able to read a newspaper if they are going to vote. However. There were a couple of problems (or advantages, depending on your agenda) with this requirement. In Alabama at the time (possibly still but I don't know), the African-American population was less literate than the white population, disenfranchising them disproportionately. In addition, literacy tests were administered by people. For a person of European heritage, the ability to write their name might have been considered proof of literacy. A person of African heritage might have been required to write an essay on a passage of the Bible.

In the US, people who have been convicted of a crime - disproportionately African-American men - are already denied the vote. Adding another filter to prevent yet more marginal people from exercising a right to vote appears to be another attempt to rig voting lists. (No, no, this one would have nothing to do with heritage - at least I don't think it does - but people with mental illness may be starkly aware of lapses in social services and the impacts they can have on people's lives, and this awareness could influence their vote, not always in a right-wing direction.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Shrink, What, no pithy comment about how DEAD Democrats are allowed to vote all the time??

Maybe Cranston should drop the mental illness thing and concentrate on cleaning up their voting rolls instead.

Sarebear said...

You know, I had a REALLY good, focused comment on this, shortly after the post went up. It got eaten in bloggerland, I guess, and I was just frustrated and haven't come back to this thread until now.

You know me, all rambly and stuff; when I can write something focused, it's usually good. So just pretend you just read a really good comment by me on this subject.

With a REALLY good pun in it, just for Clink!