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Those in guardianship voting rights

Published (4/29/2011)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Alan Stene has guardianship over his adult son who suffers from a traumatic brain injury. The Brainerd father placed him in a group home, and was surprised to learn he had voted in the general election.

“The group home owner knows my son’s competency. He felt it was OK ’cause it was legal for him to vote. This is above the law,” he told the House Civil Law Committee

April 26.

According to current law, his vote was legal, but Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) would change this under HF1119, which she sponsors.

“The right to vote does have qualifications listed in our constitution. My bill aligns with the Minnesota constitution, which specifically says that someone under guardianship is not eligible to vote, nor shall be permitted to vote,” she said.

The bill would bring the law back to how it was before being changed in 2003. Those under guardianship would not be allowed to vote, however there would be a chance to have the right restored during the annual review, and if restored, a person would be able to remain in the guardianship arrangement.

The bill was approved and moved to the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Beth Fraser, director of governmental affairs for the Office of the Secretary of State, said she opposes the bill because it would deprive many individuals of their right to vote.

“The real question isn’t whether they have the right to vote, but the appropriate assistance. Under Minnesota statute, individuals are allowed assistance in voting, but they must direct the person assisting in how they want to vote. It is unlawful for someone to try to influence a vote.”

Justin Page, staff attorney with Minnesota Disability Law Center, said that under current law, people in guardianship have the right to vote, unless the court specifically finds that they are incompetent.

“This blanket change may invite equal protection challenges from affected individuals,” he said, adding that there are 23,000 people under guardianship in the state.

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