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Changing The Kansas Constitution

Talk about unconstitutionality! Having received a mental illness diagnosis is apparently a potential disqualification to vote in the state of Kansas. Mental health advocates are urging legislators there to place a proposal on the ballot to remove the mention of mental illness from a provision in the Kansas state Constitution.

As an article in the Lawrence Journal-World & 6News, Mental health advocates seek constitutional change, explains.

The Kansas Constitution states: “The legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution.”

Advocates for those with disabilities asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to adopt Senate Concurrent Resolution 1622, which would remove mental illness from the constitutional provision. The committee took the matter under consideration.

It is argued by some mental health advocates that it is wrong to treat the mentally ill the same way as you would treat felons who have had their voting rights taken away from them as punishment for violating the law.

Several committee members questioned whether people with mental illness who are legally committed to an institution could exercise the proper judgment to vote.

Many other committee members were more receptive to reason.

Although this legislation has never been enforced with regards to people baring psychiatric labels, its high time the law was changed to suit conditions existing in a free and open democratic society.

19 Responses

  1. What a country we live in when the law of the land states that you can sign over your brain but not cast a vote.

  2. Exactly. I don’t know of any of the other states denying the vote to people on account of a psychiatric diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I know eugenic laws and practices, as bad as that sounds, haven’t been completely removed from every state in the union. Additionally the TAC, associated with the SMRI, is working to further deteriorate our rights and civil liberties, and that organization needs to be seriously monitored and fought.

  3. Whoa! I had no idea that was in there — I live in Kansas.

    (I have voted in every election since I turned 18, and, yep, I’ve got a DSM diagnosis. Two, in fact.)

    • The following, on disqualifications to vote, is from Article 5 of the Kansas constitution:

      The legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution.

      Kansas it would seem is not alone.

      New Jersey remains one of 39 states that place some form of voting restrictions on people with mental illness. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law reports that only 11 states – Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont – place no disability-related restrictions on the right to vote.

      Oddly enough Kansas is listed among the states who have no disability-related restrictions.

      The same article explains how the law has changed in New Jersey:

      On Nov. 6, 2007, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment that changed language in the state Constitution from “No person shall have the right of suffrage who is an ‘idiot’ or ‘insane’ person” to “No person shall have the right of suffrage who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting.”

      This article is entitled, tellingly enough, Getting out the mental health vote, and that says it all.

      Now look up second class citizen.

      If anybody would like to see what restrictions exist in their own home state, the Bazelon Center For Mental Health Law website has a downloadable chart in pdf file format listing State Laws Affecting Voting Rights of People With Mental Disabilities.

  4. Thanks for writing this article! I used it as a jumping-off point for my own article on the voting rights laws for people with mental illness in Washington State. Very interesting! I gave you credit in my blog entry.

  5. I got one of the highest readerships I’ve ever had on that blog entry. I don’t quite understand why, since I only have about 26 subscribers. I don’t know where the traffic came from, but I’m thrilled it came. Perhaps from your blog? If so, I thank you!

    • I doubt its because of my blog. I think instead its probably due to the seriousness of the subject matter. We tend to see the vote as one of those things that are most fundamental to democracy, and when the vote is missing, that’s a serious human rights infringement. You think of all the trouble people went through during the civil rights era in the American south to get rid of Jim Crow. Voting is what makes a citizen a citizen. Without it your citizen is little more than a second class citizen, if that. This is a big thing. A lot of people don’t know that people in mental health treatment can be deprived of this right, and that’s where your blog entry is so important. It shows that we have a struggle of our own to conduct before we get to where everybody else is.

  6. Where do we go from here?

    • Feel like running for office? I know of ex-patients who have run for political office. The state capital would be a good place to go.

  7. Are you kidding? They’d have me for lunch with my history 🙂 Bipolar ex-mermaid who spent 3 weeks in mental hospital seeks Senate or Governor seat. Well, on second hand, at least my history is honest 🙂

    • 3 weeks? Is that all? That doesn’t sound very ‘sick’ to me.

      I’ve heard we’ve made some gains since Thomas Eagleton was ousted as VP canidate from the George McGovern presidential campaign. Senator Patrick Kennedy admitted to substance abuse, perhaps with other issues included, and then began to work for insurance parity. (Or do I mean parody?) I’ve heard then that the situation has improved.

      It’s an uphill battle to be sure, but it’s a battle that needs to be fought, if not by you then by somebody else. What do they say in the sports field? No gain without pain.:-/ Keep at it, girl. You can do it!

  8. The Kansas Constitution says the legislature MAY pass a law restricting voter rights because of mental illness, but there is currently no law doing such, and no proposal to pass such a law. This is really much ado about nothing.

    • Actually this is not much ado about nothing, it’s about something. It’s about recognizing human rights, citizenship rights, and civil liberties. It’s about treating people as something better than second class citizens regardless of whether they have had a hospital experience or not.

      The Kansas Constitution states: “The legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution.”

      This is not the only stupid statute on the books, and it’s not the only law that should be changed, but it should be changed. The Kansas Constitution states we, the state representatives, can, if we wanted, enact legislation to exclude you from the electoral process if you have had a psychiatric history. Somebody needs to remind Kansas that our US Constitution has a bill of rights and that any such suggestion is in violation of those rights. The very wording constitutes a wrong as far as I am concerned. Hop, skip, and jump. If you stay with this wording you’re saying more or less, “If it’s okay to deny this segment of the population their right to vote, it must okay to deny them other rights as well.” Let me just add, as if it needed saying, it is not okay.

      • This sentance is wrong: “Having received a mental illness diagnosis is apparently a disqualification to vote in the state of Kansas.” It is not a disqualification, as there is no law saying that someone with a mental illness cannot vote. You misled your readers by this opening.

        This change will probably pass, and that is good, as you say. But misstating the current reality is not a good way to present your side of the case. If you can’t present an argument accurately, and without hyperbole, it usually means you have a weak argument, regardless of if you are right or not.

      • er, sentence.

  9. You’re right. I wasn’t out to deceive anybody. The sentence is misleading. There has got to be a better way to put it, and I’m looking at rephrasing the opening sentence. Thanks for pointing that out to me.

    Do you think, “Having received a mental illness diagnosis is apparently a potential disqualification to vote in the state of Kansas” would work? All it takes for potential to become actual would be for the state legislature to enact legislation. The wording of the state constitution says that such legislation can be enacted.

    • I like your entire second paragraph and think the whole thing would be a good addition 🙂 That is accurate and shows exactly what the problem is.

  10. […] the November 2nd ballot in Kansas. This is a subject that I have written about in a previous post, Changing The Kansas Constitution. The New England Comcast Network reported on this development with a story, Kansas amendment on […]

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