People with disabilities sometimes find their right to vote challenged by family members or legal guardians. Misunderstandings often center on people who are under guardianship. In 2020 more than 38 million people with disabilities were eligible to vote, according to the American Association of People with Disabilities. It’s not clear how many of those voters were under guardianship.
What is guardianship? Guardianship is a court order that says someone is someone else’s legal responsibility. A guardian can make decisions for the person under guardianship, including decisions about health care and residency. But a guardian cannot tell a person how to vote.
Persons under guardianship can vote in Minnesota, as long as a judge didn’t specifically restrict the right to vote through a court order. The right to vote is rarely taken away and happens only under extreme circumstances.
Persons with disabilities including a brain injury, a cognitive or developmental disability or those experiencing memory loss have sometimes had their rights to vote challenged. It often comes down to the guardian or a family member disagreeing with the voter on a choice in candidates.
Unless the right to vote has been restricted by a court, these Minnesotans still have the right to vote and no one can take that away. A spouse, children, attorneys, caregivers, doctors or nurses cannot take away or improperly influence the right to vote. Election judges often ask if someone helping a voter with disabilities if the helper is assisting or influencing. That is a safeguard against improper influence.
Some voters may find themselves in a hospital or care center prior to an election. Local election officials send teams of election judges to these facilities during the 20 days before the election. The judges distribute ballots to eligible residents of the facility and assist voters as needed.
Only residents of the city or town where the facility is located can vote in this manner. Others must request absentee ballots from their home communities. Or a designated agent can deliver a ballot to the voter.
What if the voter is living in a residential facility? A voter can register online, fill out and send in a paper form, or go with a facility staff member to register in person during the election. the staff member can confirm the voter’s address at the facility.
Residential facilities can include group residential housing or group homes, assisted living facilities, nursing homes or care centers, residential alcohol or chemical treatment programs, supervised living facilities, residential facilities for persons with developmental disabilities, transitional housing, veterans’ homes, homeless shelters and shelters for people who are victims of domestic violence.
The Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office points out that some people who live in residential facilities may have difficulty providing proof of residence prior to voting. A simple way to provide such proof is to ask the facility staff to go along to the polls with the voter, and vouch for that person.
Vouching is when the staff swears that they personally know people who live in the facility. Any staff person can vouch for all eligible voters who are facility residents. However, staff must prove their employment with election officials. Methods of proof include showing an employee identification badge.
It is helpful for a facility to send a certified staff list to election officials in advance. The list must go to the county election office at least 20 days prior to the election. A specific form, available through the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, must be used.
If a company has facilities in different precincts, a form must be sent for each facility in each precinct. If staff work at multiple locations, they can appear on more than one list.
If a staff list is taken directly to a polling place, it must be on facility letterhead, with the address. List the staff members who will take residents to vote. The letter must be signed and dated, and have the name as well as the title of the signer.
The letter must state “I certify that the following is a list of employees of this facility who may vouch on Election Day for eligible voters who are residents of this facility, and that this facility meets the definition of “residential facility” contained in Minnesota Statutes 201.061, subd. 3, para.(c).” Typically an administrator signs the letter. It is then taken to the polling place.
Elections coverage is provided in cooperation with Ramsey County Elections.