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‘Yes on 2 rally in Overland Park supports voting rights for mentally ill

Kansas Watchdog Posted By Earl Glynn On October 15, 2010 @ 6:24 pm In Column B

OVERLAND PARK. No one in Kansas has ever been denied the right to vote because of mental illness, and a proposed Kansas constitutional amendment on the ballot on Nov. 2 will make sure that never happens.

The Association of Mental Health Centers of Kansas [2] held a noon-time rally at the KU Edwards Campus on Friday about their “Yes on 2; initiative.

The group wants to remove words from the Kansas Constitution [3] that could enable the legislature to disqualify those with “mental illness” from voting.

Mark Wiebe, Director of Public Affairs at Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare [4], said ”we need to blow the cobwebs off the Constitution and remove this threat that exists to the voting rights of every law-abiding Kansan.” According to Wiebe, “one in five Kansans can be expected to have a mental disorder some time in a given year.”

Wiebe introduced three Kansans who described there experiences with mental illness and their experiences with voting:

Richard Thompson, a UMKC student, said “recovering from these issues has not been easy … but this has never kept me from being an active citizen or being involved in politics.”

Cherie Bledsoe, a mother, grandmother, and mental health advocate, said she “struggled between living and dying” with her mental illness but “I got help” and that “mental illness does not define all that I am.” Bledsoe said “I know so many good, hard-working, tax-paying citizens who live with mental illness and take an active interest in their communities.”

According to Bledsoe “the language in the Constitutional provision carries the potential to restrict our voting rights. This potential is harmful.”

Tomas Hernandez, a veteran and mental health advocate, described growing up in a traumatic home and living with mental illness for about 25 years. Hernandez said such disabilities doesn’t affect one’s ability to vote.

Rocky Nichols, Executive Director of Disability Rights of Kansas [5], said Amendment 2 was the culmination of three years of work on the issue.

Nichols said there is no known organized opposition to Amendment 2. “Nothing organized, but the biggest challenge we have is battling the stigma” of mental illness according to Nichols.

Later in an informal discussion, Thompson said medical advances have helped with the understanding of mental illnesses and improved the ability of those to function who are affected. “Based on research, too, people can recover”, added Hernandez.

Bledsoe said “we’re the evidence that people can and do recover.”

Nichols speculated that the biases in the 1970s inadvertently replaced a narrow term like “insane” in the law with a broader term “mental illness.” “In all honesty they were potentially taking away the right to vote for more Kansans” when the law waschanged in 1974. “It was wrong back in 1974 when it was passed, and it’s wrong today,” according to Nichols.

Text of Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 on November ballot: Question No. 2:

Explanatory statement. This amendment would repeal the authority of the legislature to exclude persons with mental illness from voting.

A vote for this amendment would ensure that the right to vote for persons with mental illness cannot be taken away by the legislature.

A vote against this amendment would continue the current authority of the legislature to take away the right to vote forpersons with mental illness.

Shall the following be adopted?

§ 2. Disqualification to vote. The legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or

commitment to a jail or penal institution. No person convicted of a felony under the laws of any state or of the United

States, unless pardoned or restored to his civil rights, shall be qualified to vote.

 

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