NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 20, 2007

Rhode Island is among a growing number of states grappling with the question of who is too mentally impaired to vote, says the New York Times.

The issue is drawing attention for two major reasons:

  • Increasing efforts by the mentally ill and their advocates to secure voting rights.
  • 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.

Some state skirmishes involve efforts to ease restrictions, while others involve specific cases that compel officials to clarify old laws.  And with research showing that many people with dementia or other impairments vote or want to, there is also a desire to ensure they are not pressured to vote certain ways:

  • In Missouri, advocates for the mentally ill have sued the state, trying to make it easier for people under guardianship for mental incapacity to vote.
  • New Jersey may put on the November ballot an amendment to the state's Constitution to replace language forbidding an "idiot or insane person" to vote.
  • In Maine, a federal ruling a few years ago said a constitutional provision, twice affirmed by referendum, was discriminatory because it barred voting by people under guardianship for mental illness.


  • Recent local elections in Alabama, South Carolina and elsewhere have included accusations of ballots cast on behalf of nursing home residents who were incompetent to vote.
  • In New Jersey, a nursing home employee who won a 2004 election to a county Democratic committee stepped down because her victory resulted from absentee ballots cast by the nursing home residents.

Source: Pam Belluck, "States Face Decisions on Who Is Mentally Fit to Vote," New York Times, June 19, 2007.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues