Rhode Island, along with other states, is struggling with whether or not to grant suffrage to people who have been declared insane:
"I just think if you are declared insane you should not be allowed to vote, period," said Joseph DeLorenzo, chairman of the Cranston Board of Canvassers. "Some people are taking these two clowns and calling them disabled persons. Is insanity a disability? I have an answer to that: no. You're insane; you're nuts."I believe, by definition, that Mr. DeLorenzo is incorrect in his assessment that the insane are not disabled. A disability is a limitation of physical or mental capacities, and the insane, most would agree, have severely limited mental faculties. But, Mr. DeLorenzo's prejudice against these people seems to be evident in his use of the slur clown.
Rhode Island state law currently prohibits people with serious psychiatric impairments from voting, which, in my view, is a serious misstep. We fought for years in this nation to eliminate discrimination in voting rights based on race (Fifteenth Amendment), gender (Nineteenth Amendment), and class (Twenty-fourth Amendment). Even after Reconstruction, many states and localities attempted to bar Blacks from voting with dubiously enforced literacy tests, which were finally banned by the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. We should by no means allow any backward motion in granting universal suffrage for full citizens.
What do opponents to suffrage for insane adult citizens fear? That the mentally ill might be too easily swayed to vote one way or another? There are plenty (far too many, I'm sure) sane people who are just as gullible--would they like to institute a test of mental fortitude in order to participate in democracy? And what would happen if the mentally ill actually did swing an election? If ever the insane gather enough votes to elect one of their own into office, our nation will have a much greater problem than the electoral process (namely, the state of the population's mental health).
Rather, limiting the voting rights of the mentally ill opens the door for even more oppression; for, who is to say that any sane person is actually fit to decide who should rule? What if they haven't thought through all the issues, or read widely enough, or can reason soundly enough? The National Voting Rights Act says that
No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color . . .Perhaps the time is right to extend this Act to secure suffrage for all citizens of our nation.