Civil Rights

Votes for Nuts?

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Apparently, there are people who believe that only the mentally fit should be allowed to vote. Joseph DeLorenzo, Chairman of the Cranston, Rhode Island, Board of Canvassers is one of them:

"I just think if you are declared insane you should not be allowed to vote, period. …Is insanity a disability? I have an answer to that: no. You're insane; you're nuts."

He adds:

"We don't need the additional burden of worrying whether an incompetent child murderer's vote might affect the outcome of a close School Committee or other local race."

Ah yes, the ever-burdensome "mentally-ill swing vote" could put Mrs. Johnston over the top in the race for school board. How will she sleep at night knowing that some wacko might have tipped the scales in her favor?

If we allow people in authority to decide who qualifies to vote for what they know or don't know; what they understand or don't understand; or what they believe or don't believe, we could return to tests like these.

Why should competence be a requirement for voting, anyway? It certainly isn't a requirement for office.

More from the reason archives on the loony bin.

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  1. When insanity is outlawed, only outlaws will be insane.

    Or something.

    Tell you what, I will agree to this when they outlaw insane people from holding office. That will bring the eligible pool of office holders down to a manageable level, somewhere between 5-10% of the population. Of course, at that point insane voters will not have any adverse effect since they can vote only for sane candidates, who, by the very definition of sanity will never seek office to start with, so there will be no need to outlaw insane voters.

    I love my logic.

  2. Well, we wouldn’t want politicians pandering to the ignorant masses or anything.

  3. This is an interesting topic. So, how does someone declared “legally insane” get to the polls? Aren’t they pretty much locked up or in long-term care facilities? Does DeLorenzo mean that someone who’s been declared insane at any point in their life is permanently disenfranchised?

  4. Well, it kind of makes sense that if you aren’t legally capable of forming a contract or being held liable for the checks you sign that maybe you shouldn’t be capable of voting.

    Disenfranchsising the seriously mentally ill makes as much sense as keeping 17 year olds out of the ballot box. Granted, mentally ill people make up a much smaller portion of the vote, but the principle still holds. If you are against disenfranchising people who are legally insane, why are you for (if you are) requiring an age of majority to vote?

    If you are for a true universal franchise, would you also eliminate incapacity as a doctrine in contract law?

  5. I think you vastly underestimate the size of the mentally ill bloc here.

  6. Well, it kind of makes sense that if you aren’t legally capable of forming a contract or being held liable for the checks you sign that maybe you shouldn’t be capable of voting.

    You miss the point. We don’t let incompetent people make contracts because they might have actual, serious consequences adverse to the best interests of the incompetent contractor. Letting mentally incompetent people vote, on the other hand, would simply be an acknowledgment that one person’s vote doesn’t make any difference.

    Although in the aggregate they might help Democrats win some close races.

  7. Is delusional the same as insane? If the answer to that is yes, than all deists (believers in “god”) would be disqualifed. Just partially whimsical musing here.

  8. You miss the point. We don’t let incompetent people make contracts because they might have actual, serious consequences adverse to the best interests of the incompetent contractor.

    This would also explain why competence isn’t a requirement to be a federal contracting officer.

  9. Ah yes, the ever-burdensome “mentally-ill swing vote” could put Mrs. Johnston over the top in the race for school board.

    Actually, this theory explains the outcome of damned near every election I’ve seen in my life.

  10. Three observations:

    1) I’d say that the mentally ill are at least as likely to stay away from the polls as anybody else. Furthermore, their numbers are only enough to swing a close election, i.e. elect somebody who already has significant support from nearly a majority of the mentally healthy people (whatever that means). So whatever theoretical harms could arise from large numbers of mentally ill people voting, the practical harms are likely to be minimal.

    2) Say we deprive the mentally ill of the right to vote. How do they get it back? There are probably a lot more mentally ill people out there holding jobs and living happy lives with the help of medication and doctors. You see the guy shambling down the street, and you hear the loudmouth with fairly mild symptoms demanding specially treatment. What you don’t notice is all of the people who have been in that messed up situation and got out of it, and have no real desire to let anybody know how fucked up they were at one point. Trust me, I know a few of them. You’d never know. And they don’t want you to know.

    Should these happy, now healthy, and productive people be subject to any special scrutiny? Some of them continue to take medications and see doctors, but they are maintaining a normal life. The last thing they want is anybody else poking around in their business and scrutinizing their mental state.

    Taking the vote away from the mentally ill has huge potential downsides for fairly minimal possible gains.

  11. Forgive the typo in the first sentence above. It was just a simple mistake, and not a sign of deeper problems. Really, I’m perfectly right in the head. Honest.

  12. I have problems with the sane/mentally ill/insane categories. Of note, till 1973 homosexuality was a mental illness. Today being shy is a mental illness (sorry I don’t recall the psychological term for this). OTOH some people are unquestionably insane, some may be insane and most are in the category of probably sane. Lots of gray area there. Any thoughts on how we as a society are to determine this.

    I see the problems but don’t see any solutions. I could never run for office.

  13. Taking the vote away from the mentally ill has huge potential downsides for fairly minimal possible gains.

    Keeping the mentally ill out of office: priceless.

  14. Really, I’m perfectly right in the head. Honest.

    Thoreau, methinks thou dost protest too much. Wink, wink

  15. What if the mentally ill are not allowed to vote, ant then being opposed to anything the government does is declared a mental illness, like they did in the Soviet Union?

  16. I’m starting to think a big part of the source of our problems has to do with this whole voting for candidates thingy in the first place. Like I’ve said before, being able to throw the people in power out on their asses is what’s great about democracy–having to vote people in is just a necessary evil…

    …maybe we should look for ways to make voting people in less necessary.

    I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of letting people vote for budget items. Give us ten votes each and a menu of budget items to vote on, and let me vote on which items my taxes go to. 40% of the votes are for defense–40% of our revenue goes to defense. 35% vote to build a bridge to Terabithia…

    They’d have to privatize all the services no one voted to pay for! Ha! They’d have to set up a new Department of Privatization–hell, I’d vote to fund that.

    …and who the kooks voted for wouldn’t matter so much.

  17. Yes, ma’am. I’ve voted for Doyle Hargraves with a write-in ballot. Yes, ma’am, I’m right sure of it. I marked him two good X’s in the blank space. That second one just plum near cut the ballot in two… It’s a lil’ ol’ voting precinct on the corner of Vine Street and some other street. There’s a sign out front that says “Thornton Elementary” on it. Billy Bob said besides sending the voter registrar, you might wanna send a reporter or a poll watcher. I’ll be sitting here, waiting on ye. Mmmmmmm. And could you bring some French fried potaters and biscuits? Mmmmmm.

  18. When I first saw this thread title, I thought it was about pandering to the squirrel vote.

  19. After finally getting to the read the full article, DeLorenzo is angry about two institutionalized men who were found “not guilty by reason of insanity” of murder, but have continued to vote by mail since their conviction.

  20. I’ve always thought government employees and contractors should forfeit the right to vote.

  21. Let’s see, what is a kind way to say this?

    Joseph DeLorenzo is an ignorant buffoon.

    In the first place, competence is a legal issue decided in courts of law in response to specific situations (e.g. capable of caring for themselves) and in my state the law says that there are 26 separate compentencies (including the ability to get a fishing license, I can’t make this stuff up) all of which have to be addressed in every competency hearing. How does this gentleman propose to decide who is competent without testing everyone yearly?

    That would be fun.

  22. Whutchu dewin in ‘is here poll, boah? We don’t take kindly ta crazers votin round ‘ese parts.

  23. Is delusional the same as insane? If the answer to that is yes, than all deists (believers in “god”) would be disqualifed. Just partially whimsical musing here.

    A slippery slope. Which of the following widely/strongly held beliefs are well-founded and which are “delusional”?

    – The more readily available guns are to the general population, the higher the likelihood that guns will be used in crimes.

    – More guns = less crime.

    – Raising the minimum wage by a moderate amount can benefit low-wage earners without negatively affecting employment or the economy.

    – Raising the minimum wage causes unemployment.

    – Poverty can only be addressed by concerted, government programs.

    – Private charity is not only sufficient to address the needs of the poverty-stricken, but could do an even better job if we didn’t have government programs around to grab all the resources.

    – Roads are a public good that are best provided by government.

    – Private roads are a practical and superior alternative to public roads.

    – Obesity is an epidemic that must be addressed by public policy.

    – I can has cheezburger.

    You get the idea.

    And how do we decide? Put it to a vote?

  24. Y’know, if the Alabama test hadn’t been a naked attempt to disenfranchise blacks, and accompanied with an astonishing degree of educational inequality, I’d be in favor of instituting that test across the whole nation. DMV paper test-style, so you could pass with a score as low as 50% or so, but still.

    I’d even allow illiterates to take the test on tape, to make it a test of knowledge and understanding rather than literacy.

  25. I’ll support this when the desire to vote is recognized as prima facie evidence of sociopathy.

  26. D.A.R. —

    Although nuts and taints are closely connected in the pub(l)ic arena, those who are a bit more “forward-thinking” tend to focus on the nuts. More retentive types, of course, focus on the anus. The taint is for those who are more “middle of the road.”

  27. don’t ask, don’t tell…or…can’t tell, don’t ask

    my favorite new game…on the cell phone or off the meds?

  28. jb:

    The result would be a new federal program for “No Voter Left Behind” and a new Kaplan cram course for the Voter Aptitude Tests.

    Stevo:

    Are you suggesting there is no constitutional wall of separation between the pub(l)ic and the privates?

  29. Catch 22. If you want to vote, you are insane and therefore not allowed to vote. If you are sane you can vote, but only if you want to.

  30. Why should competence be a requirement for voting, anyway? It certainly isn’t a requirement for office.

    Oh, shnap!

  31. There is an easy way to put this system in practice: re-introduce a poll tax. It might not be politically correct, but I’m pretty sure it will improve both the voter populace, and the political stock that gets elected.

  32. Dr. Phil receives credit these days for observing that repeating the same action while expecting different results = insanity. By that measure, aren’t voters more implicated than abstainers?

  33. Well, its not manic-depressive would keep you from voting. It wouldn’t keep you from being able to sign a contract.

    I’m talking like General Zepp the weiner dog told me to kill those kids crazy, not just any ole’ mental illness. And I don’t think being gay was every a disability to contract.

  34. D.A.R. —

    Are you suggesting there is no constitutional wall of separation between the pub(l)ic and the privates?

    I’m not sure that it’s explicitly in the Constitution, but we do know that at least one of the Framers, Thumbass Jefferson, advocated for a “wall of separation between Cooch and State.”

  35. I’m not sure that it’s explicitly in the Constitution, but we do know that at least one of the Framers, Thumbass Jefferson, advocated for a “wall of separation between Cooch and State.”

    Oh yeah, that’s right. It was in the first draft of his Declaration of In-de-pants.

  36. The practical implications of a mentally ill persons vote, whether it affects the outcome of the election or not, is immaterial and unrelated to the real question here:

    Who has the right to vote?

    The answer is clearly not everyone, and I’m not sure anyone would argue for that. Clearly an infant does not have the right to vote. In the same way, a five year old does not have a right to vote. Likewise, a ten year old likely doesn’t have the right to vote. Sometime around the age of 18 people are able to vote and the standard clearly has to do with a level of competency and maturity.

    Given this, why should mentally ill people be able to vote? If their level of cognition is equivalent to that of a 5 year-olds, there’s little reason to say yes to one but no to another.

    You avoid the question by joking that first there needs to be a test for competency for office. Unfortunately, joking does not answer the question, it’s merely a nice slight of hand to get by the real issue.

  37. Like a taint between Stevo as the anus and D.A.R. the balls, we need to keep you two separated.

    I think I just precluded myself from voting.

    Head hurts. Need meds. Pass the Old Style.

  38. In the first place, competence is a legal issue decided in courts of law in response to specific situations (e.g. capable of caring for themselves) and in my state the law says that there are 26 separate compentencies (including the ability to get a fishing license, I can’t make this stuff up) all of which have to be addressed in every competency hearing. How does this gentleman propose to decide who is competent without testing everyone yearly?

    Unless I’m missing something, people don’t undergo a yearly competence test before they’re allowed to fish. I don’t think it would be too hard to handle voting the same way we do fishing (i.e., act on the presumption that any given voter is competent, subject to the possibility of a legal ruling, after due process, to the contrary).

  39. Yes, the state mental facility comes to your town and those in treatment becomes one of the biggest voting blocks in the town, a few hundred, all absentee, which holds up the final count. Here, the vote from the nursing homes is significant. They all vote by absentee ballot, all mailed the same day. Hmmm. I know it is all done honestly, as possible.

  40. If you’re going to take away their second amendment right, why not take away the rest of them too?

  41. I used to drink with a guy in England who had been in and out of mental hospitals for years. If anyone would question his sanity he’d pull out a piece of paper and start shouting “Hey, I’m completely sane and I’ve got the documents to prove it!” Somehow, this was not reasuring…

    Also, I really like the voter test. Add in some basic econ 101 questions and a poll tax and we might get some decent people elected.

  42. The real question is “how does the mentally ill vote affect blue candidates?”

  43. An age restriction is objective, so it doesn’t have as much danger for abuse. A restriction based on mental state has the potential for wide spread abuse.

  44. With that headline I thought this was going to be another thread about Florida elections.

  45. As Adam points out, the real issue is “who has the right to vote?”. And I think Dan above is getting to the same point.

    When someone is convicted of a “felony”, they lose the right to vote (as well as the right to own a firearm, Dan).

    But the ability to define a crime as a “felony” is too subject to political pressure, and should not be a limiting factor on one’s right to vote (or own a firearm).

    Imagine if you will, a time when, say, smoking in your own apartment is redefined as a felony. Anyone found smoking in their own home would then have the right to vote taken away. This would of course please the joe’s and the Dan T.s of the world, since those people are precisely the ones who would wish to limit the role of the State in their lives, but it wouldn’t do much for the rest of us.

    Let the crazies vote. Let the felons vote. Let everybody vote (as soon as they reach the ONE age of majority; at which time they should also be able to sign a contract, go to war, buy a drink, whatever.)

    I’m just sayin’.

    CB

  46. the Dan T.s of the world, since those people are precisely the ones who would wish to limit the role of the State in their lives

    I must be going crazy.

  47. @Huh – “those people” was intended to refer to the people caught smoking, who would lose the right to vote/own a firearm. Not Dan T. or joe.

    Sorry for the ineffective use of the language. Ten years of college down the drain.

    CB

  48. First time I voted in Utah my polling place was just down from an assisted living center. There was a large group of profoundly mentally disabled folks at the polls with their handlers. It was clear to me, although I’m no doctor, that most of these folks didn’t have even the minimal faculties required to care for their own basic needs, let alone make informed decisions about prospective pols. Not that I care much if they vote; I assume it would just be noise anyway. While I waited several voted. They all needed their caregivers to escort them to the booth and hold their hand while they gripped the stylus. It would have been trivial for the handler to guide the voting. Not good.

  49. They all needed their caregivers to escort them to the booth and hold their hand while they gripped the stylus. It would have been trivial for the handler to guide the voting. Not good.

    I don’t know why not good. After all, people who can’t handle their own affairs (including deciding whether they should live or die) have representatives appointed to make those decisions for them. All we need is to have the court appoint someone to case the disabled person’s vote for him. Of course, the guardian could only cast the vote the way, in his judgment, the disabled person would vote if the disabled person weren’t insane. I’m sure that’s what those handlers were doing. (But following the precedent of Superintendent of Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, 370 N.E.2d 417 (1977), among the factors the handlers should take into account would be the fact that the disabled person is insane. IOW, because crazy people may have a different take on public policy than sane people, the handler should vote the way the crazy person would vote if the crazy person wasn’t crazy, but knew he was crazy. That doesn’t sound crazy or anything, does it?)

  50. “I just think if you are declared insane you should not be allowed to vote, period. …Is insanity a disability? I have an answer to that: no. You’re insane; you’re nuts.”

    The Chairman of the Cranston, RI Board of Canvassers then added, “Cheryl! Cheryl! Get in the fuckin’ cah!”

    Did I mention this took place in Cranston, RI?

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