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My Son Can’t Read a Ballot: Should He Vote Anyway?

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There are currently least 36 million people with disabilities (more than 11 percent of the population) in the U.S. One-third of adults of working age (21-64 years old) are unemployed and 27 percent of working age adults with disabilities live below the poverty line, as Rebecca Schleifer, health and human rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, writes in the Huffington Post. It costs $15-$25 to get your birth certificate, fees that are more challenging for those more likely to live in poverty.

Schleifer cites a 2012 study showing that voter turnout for individuals with disabilities is 11 percent lower than for people without. For those with physical disabilities, simply getting to a polling place (due to not being able to drive and having to rely on others or public transportation) and getting into a polling place can be barriers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that voting places must be accessible but a 2009 US Government Accountability Office study found that more than two-thirds were not fully accessible.

Should Charlie Vote When He’s Older?

Some states bar individuals with mental illness or intellectual disabilities like Charlie from voting based on their being “mentally incompetent.” But sometimes election officials or service providers have “improperly” screened out those they deemed incompetent, says Schleifer:

In Virginia, for example, election officials refused to provide absentee ballots for people in state psychiatric facilities because they read the state law to authorize such ballots only for people with physical disabilities. A 2008 study of Philadelphia nursing homes found that staff were denying residents the right to vote based on their own assessment of capacity to vote, notwithstanding that Pennsylvania law does not require that voters be deemed competent to cast a ballot.

My husband and I will be taking the legal steps required to place Charlie under our guardianship by the time he turns 18. But, while it’s likely Charlie will not be able to read a ballot — he tests low when his IQ is evaluated — he is far more intelligent and understands more than is apparent. He will rely on state and federal support including Medicaid as an adult and, to the extent that we can, I think it’s important to explain that something he does (voting) could affect his own life (the services and benefits he receives).

An organization called The ARC – “Association for Retarded Citizens” — often comes under fire because of the use of the word “retarded” in its name. The “r-word” is shunned now, but saying that someone like Charlie is mentally retarded was once considered progress; it certainly is over words like “feeble-minded” and “idiot.”

Concerns about causes, treatments and scientific research, while certainly important, are at the center of many organizations for those with disabilities. I think it’s significant that the word “citizens” is in the ARC’s name:  Charlie is a citizen, with rights that need to be acknowledged. Rather than simply take away the right of those under guardianship to vote, should we not seek to figure out better how to protect that right?

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112 comments

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10:52PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

Interesting. since I live in MN and a close friend of mine has a situation like this I will ask her about.

8:15PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

If a person doesn't UNDERSTAND what the vote is about, or who they are voting for, then they should not vote. If someone couldn't read the material because of a learning disability or visual impairment, but they understand who and what they are voting for, then they should be allowed to vote with an assistant/ reader, etc...

12:00AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

If you're unable to get to the polling place, then arrangements should be made, same if you're blind or dyslexic. But if you're retarded or senile and don't know what you're doing there, the no, you should not vote.

Muriel C, well said. Just one tiny protest: Most of us aspies do not like the term Aspergers sufferers, as we do not feel we suffer from it, any more than you suffer from being NT. Tony Attwood says it very well here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKRIRZEV4B4

6:24PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

It's EVERYONES right!!!

2:01PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

How quickly the conversation would seem to migrate from mental capacity, to literal literacy , and then on to political literacy.

For some reason the phrase "slippery slope" seems to be coming to mind of it's own volition.

It would be imagined that if only those with a full and complete comprehension of the issues were allowed to vote the entire run of ballots could be produced on a single office copier.

Even less ballots would be required depending upon who devised the test.

12:19PM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

and some people just don't have a clue as to what is going on Politically. If you want to vote for someone-- at least know what the platforms are the the issues are.. and then be able to make an intelligent decision based on your own perception without outside influence.. Then anyone should be able to vote.. It's the woman who said last election... "I'm gonna get some free money from Obama's stash" that needs to find a better reason to get to the polls.

9:49AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

Muriel C. - You took the words right out of
my mouth! Couldn't have stated it better.
Thank you!
What is it with these vote denying fraudsters?

8:14AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

This article isn't clear at all. Old age, intellectual deficiency, mental illness, and disability are all lumped together.
Some people can have a slew of disabilities which makes it necessary that they be driven to the polling place and that the ballot be read to them, yet be fully competent; Mental illness doesn't usually negate intelligence; and autism isn't a intellectual deficiency, it's a neurological problem with a very wide range, from Asperger sufferers, who are actually a lot more intelligent that the average "normal" adult, to completely unable to communicate.
Before one is denied the right to vote, incompetence should be proven, not just inferred from disability or mental illness.

6:03AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

Caregivers exploiting vulnerable adults for their vote is unethical.

2:39AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012

Difficult question which I believe cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

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