The Right to Vote for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities


Presidential political campaigns are geared up and running at a fast pace even though it’s several months away before we exercise our right to vote in the United States. We, the American public, are bombarded by signs, television ads and political discussions.

The right to vote is recognized by the Supreme Court and protected under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, however, there is no expressed “right to vote” in the Constitution, it is considered a “liberty interest” for which individual states may not interfere.

People with disabilities are often denied voting rights because most states have legal provisions which, at times, deny the right to vote to citizens deemed mentally incapacitated, amongst other criteria.

According to DisabilityJustice.Org:

“The rationales given for this restriction include protecting the validity of the voting process by distinguishing voters who intend to express some preference and affect the election results from those who do not understand the nature of voting, and the preventing of voter fraud, by ensuring that mentally incompetent persons are not manipulated into voting for other people’s preferences.”

The article, The Right to Vote, published on Disability Justice’s website, has exceptional information on how these stereotypes and attitudes were brought forth, and how positive changes have been, and are still, being made to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the voting process.

Although much of the legislation surrounding voting rights for the disabled community focused on accessibility issues, further legislation and mandates address the exclusion of those deemed mentally incapacitated.

A 2007 Bar Association report concluded that “excluding the broad and indefinite category of persons with mental incapacities is not consistent with either the constitutional right to vote … or the current understanding of mental capacity.”

Advocacy groups around the nation argue that intellectual and developmental disabilities should “not be automatic barriers to participating in elections.”

In conclusion, the right to vote has historically been denied to certain classes of Americans including women, ethnic groups, religions and even those who were not landowners. Voting is power, and if people with disabilities voted at the same rate as non-disabled, 10 million more votes would have been cast in the last Presidential election, a major bloc of votes.

Information from the Office of People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)

Exercise Your Right To Vote.

All Americans have the right to vote, including people with developmental disabilities, and there are federal and state laws to guard and guarantee that right. OPWDD is committed to ensuring that voting rights are upheld for the people we serve, and that every person is given the opportunity to register to vote.

How to Register

You have many options when it comes to registering to vote. The New York Disability Vote Network website has helpful information for people with developmental disabilities, as does the NYS Board of Elections website with tips on How to Register, Knowing Your Voting Machine, Meeting Voter Access Needs, and more.

Agency-Based Voter Registration

OPWDD offers assistance with voter registration for the people we serve. Anyone who would like information or assistance in registering may contact their nearest OPWDD Voting Coordinator.

The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)

The “Motor Voter Bill” is the federal law that ensures voting rights to all Americans. This act was signed on May 20, 1993, and includes specific provisions all states must follow.

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One comment on “The Right to Vote for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
  1. donnargore says:

    You bring to light very interesting perspectives. I think much of what was written statutorily in the past is now outmoded.The electoral process needs an overhaul regardless of disability or not. It only adds to the urgency for needed change. Whose to say that those of us without “mental incapacity” are not also manipulated by others preferences? Government needs to catch up to real life. This has happened with respect to many strides in using technology for people with disabilities to vote. However, much training and sensitivity needs to take place with a dedicated but mostly elderly volunteer polling staff. If persons with disabilities can make decisions regarding their care and quality of life and are not in need of conservators to manage their affairs due to major cognitive issues preventing higher level thinking and if they have the desire to monitor current events just like anyone else, I think there is no reason for them not to vote. However, in general, any uninformed vote ‘just for the sake of voting” should be suspect in any community of voters.

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