Elections work for the disabled | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Elections work for the disabled

State law ensures only a court may decide when an individual is competent to vote

Posted: January 3, 2011 - 9:35pm

As advocates for people with disabilities we closely followed the stories about the complaint that was filed in Crow Wing County alleging voter assistance fraud and exploitation of voters with disabilities.  We are pleased that the county attorney took these matters seriously and conducted a thorough investigation. The results of the investigation confirm what we have known for some time: the election system in Minnesota works for people with disabilities.

Voting is one of the most cherished and fundamental rights in America.  People with disabilities have the same right to vote as other citizens.  Minnesota law provides the necessary safeguards to ensure the integrity of our elections. Citizens need not take a competency or literacy test in order to vote. Indeed, requiring these tests would violate the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions. In Minnesota, only a court may decide whether an individual is competent to vote. Individuals under guardianship have the right to vote unless a court specifically revokes that right.

Minnesota law also ensures that people with disabilities, like other citizens, have access to the ballot box. Individuals with disabilities are able to vote absentee if they are not able to make it to their polling place on election day.  At the polling place, individuals needing physical assistance in marking the ballot or needing to have the ballot read to them have a choice of voting methods. They can either use the Automark voting machine, which allows an individual to vote independently and privately, or they can have someone assist them in the voting booth. It is their choice.

That the voters in Crow Wing County exercised their lawful right to vote is a sign that the right balance has been struck.  

JUSTIN PAGE is a staff attorney and PAMELA HOOPES  is legal director with the Minnesota Disability Law Center.