Virginia Pushes to Include the Mentally Ill in the Voting Process

October 31, 2008

(AP) - Advocates in Virginia and across the nation are pushing to make sure those with mental disabilities know their voting rights and exercise them come Tuesday.

For months, state disability advocates have visited psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities to help those with mental disabilities register to vote or fill out absentee ballots.

Advocates say it is important to inform them - and election officials - of their rights.

All but 11 states have some type of law limiting voting rights for individuals based on competence.

More than a dozen states bar voting by individuals who are deemed incompetent or who are placed under a guardian's care. Another 20 states ban voting only if a court has determined that the individual specifically lacks the capacity to vote.

Laws remain in some states that bar voting by outdated terms such as "idiots" or the "insane," but those laws are rarely enforced.

Some contend that allowing outsiders to help - whether it's assisting in filling out ballots or driving voters to the polls - could subject individuals to undue influence.

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