The New York Times today has an article on assorted state bans of and the complications around voting by the mentally insane. Easy pops like there are many voting decisions out there I personally think are insane aside, my gut reaction (in the spirit of President Bush) is that there should be no question over whether the insane can vote. Voting is a fundamental right, and in a democracy the right to vote ideally protects minorities among us from the vicissitudes of an ever shifting majority. The right should not be stripped easily. While I know that prisoners are banned from voting in the vast majority of the states, I have yet to look at the logic upholding these laws, and I hope to post on it soon.
My understanding of many mental illnesses is that many include at least moments if not periods of lucidity – peaks and valleys simply exist to a much greater extent than in most. It is often episodes of insanity that will lead to someone being committed. Or, people may be perfectly capable and intelligent in some respects while completely lacking in others – who is to say what truly measures a person’s competence to vote other than a willingness to do it and the compulsion to pick a candidate. Especially in local elections, many people will not read or be familiar with the majority of measures offered up for their approval.
The article mentions the “danger” of votes being manipulated (these days, one can’t help but think of the overzealous push for prosecution of voter fraud that has lead to the attorney firing scandal). If there are enough insane people out there that a politician’s resources would be well spent trying to directly manipulate their votes, what does that say about our society and its classifications? And how do we assess what amounts to undue influence in one person’s decision to vote?
We have spent much of our history fighting for the right of one group or another to vote. It may be a dark path if we start stripping those rights away.
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