Are People With Mental Disabilities Allowed to Vote?

Being diagnosed with a short or long-term disability does not directly impact your voting rights as a U.S. citizen. But it could affect your ability to vote depending on where you live.

Some states have special rules about voting with a disability. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), anyone with a mental disability who understands what it means to vote can vote in federal elections.

This article will discuss whether someone with a disability can vote in a federal election. It also explains the voting accommodations available to citizens with disabilities.

Defining a Disability

The word "disability" is a broad term with numerous connotations. Many definitions define a disability as a condition limiting an individual's mental health or physical capabilities. This definition says a disability may affect a person's sensory, movement, and processing skills. For example, someone with developmental disabilities may struggle to understand the voting process. That doesn't mean they don't know what it means to vote.

A disability can be anything from a short-term injury affecting a person's ability to think, move, and travel to a long-term impairment requiring constant medical care. Some people with a disability or mental illness are under the care of a conservatorship. This is especially true if the courts have declared them mentally incompetent.

These rules and definitions can be confusing. If you or a loved one has a disability, knowing your voting rights is helpful for election time. An experienced civil rights attorney can explain your state laws and how these laws impact your right to vote.

Can I Vote in the U.S. if I Have a Disability?

Voting laws in the U.S. have changed over the years. Only a small group of people could vote when the founding fathers signed the Constitution. This group consisted of white males who owned land and were at least 21 years old.

Today, voting laws are much different. All U.S. citizens who have not otherwise lost their right to vote can participate in local, state, and federal elections. But what exactly are the voting rights of people with a disability? This includes mental and physical disabilities.

One caveat is that state law helps determine voting rights. States have specific rules on things like mental incompetency and which citizens are incapable of voting.

Visit your local election website for more details on whether people with disabilities can vote in your state.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and People With Disabilities

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The Act aimed to help define the voting system and voter access. Essentially, HAVA created standards and procedures that states must follow, which also apply to federal elections.

What does this mean for people with disabilities? Election officials must meet HAVA standards so that everyone with the right to vote has an equal chance of voting on election day.

Here are some of the programs and procedures started by HAVA:

  • States must maintain databases for statewide voter registration (except in North Dakota, where the law doesn't require voter registration).
  • States must have processes for proper voter identification.
  • Voter information must be readily available.
  • The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) must research to help improve elections.
  • Election officials must test and certify voter equipment.

Voting Standards From Start To Finish

HAVA helps with all aspects of voting, from voter registration to voting at the polling place on election day. It requires that election officials provide disabled persons with everything from accommodations to specially trained voting personnel.

Accommodations will vary depending on the type of disability a person has. There may be different accommodations for people with intellectual disabilities compared to someone with limited mental capacity or someone the courts have deemed mentally incapacitated.

Accommodations for Voting in Federal Elections for Those With Disabilities

HAVA requires that states provide accessible voting locations for people with disabilities to participate in federal elections. This includes accommodations for individuals with mental, visual, and physical impairments.

States must also provide special accommodations for older voters. If there's an issue with voting accessibility, officials must give voters an alternative location or polling place.

Officials may also give voters another option for voting on or before election day. This could be absentee ballots or specially designed voting machines.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)

The federal government established the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as part of HAVA in 2002. It's a committee and clearinghouse resource that keeps all the information and reviews procedures for HAVA.

The EAC reviews how officials administer federal elections and how they maintain voting registries. The EAC is a public resource with information on:

  • Voting software
  • Studies on election administration
  • Implementation of voting system guidelines
  • State and federal laws on voting administration
  • National Voting Registration Act

If you or someone you know has a disability and needs more info on voting or HAVA, you can use the EAC website to learn more.

Voters with disabilities can also contact the Bazelon Center for Mental Health in Washington, D.C. This firm helps shape voting policy. It also files suit on behalf of people with disabilities. This advocacy group helps change voting laws and prevent voting rights violations.

Who Can Help Me if I Have Questions About Voting With a Disability?

The election process can be confusing, especially for people with disabilities. Sometimes, poll workers don't understand the difficulties disabled persons have.

If you require accommodations or have concerns about your ability to vote, contact a civil rights lawyer.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to protect your rights best. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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