Voters With Mental Disabilities Excluded From European
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 11, 2004
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND--More than 1,400 people with mental disabilities were excluded from Thursday's European elections, a Northern Ireland elections official reported.
Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley told Lord Rogan that 848 people in Northern Ireland were removed from the voting register after their relatives or caregivers told the office that they were not fit to vote. Another 614 were dropped from the register because they did not respond to letters from the Electoral Office requesting information about their state of mind.
Under a 120-year-old law, the Electoral Office sends a letter asking for clarification of a person's "mental fitness" if the person was registered by someone else. If the clarification is not returned, the person's name is removed from the voting register.
Current election law also allow for anyone to review the list of registered voters and challenge one's ability to make up their own mind and cast a ballot.
Earlier this year, Mid-Ulster Assemblyman Patsy McGlone researched the Electoral Office guidelines after people with Down syndrome, some of which had voted several years in the past, were suddenly removed from the register. McGlone found that the guide said people with mental disabilities can register to vote, as long as they are not living in a mental hospital or "special establishment".
McGlone was appalled, however, to find that the law still referred to such people as "idiots and lunatics".
"The eligibility of someone who has a profound disability might, however, in certain cases be called into question because under the common law so-called 'idiots' cannot vote," the guidelines read. "So-called 'lunatics' on the other hand can vote, though only in their lucid intervals, and so could not be excluded from the register on this ground."
A spokesperson for Prospects, a day program serving adults with mental disabilities, told the local council, "It is totally unacceptable in the 21st century to be discriminated against in this way."