Getting to know  guardianship 

As the November election draws near, people with disabilities need to be vigilant about their voting rights. That’s especially true for disabled people who are under guardianship or conservatorship. 

An upcoming event with a focus on guardianship is a highlight of this year’s Disability Voting Rights Week. 

Disability Voting Rights Week is September 12-16. Formerly known as National Disability Voting Registration Week, it is a time to spotlight election issues for people with disabilities. It is also a time to urge everyone to exercise the right to vote. 

Rev UP MN hosts a forum as part of Disability Voting Rights Week. The 2022 Elections, Voting and Accessibility for People with Disabilities forum is 6:30-7:45 p.m. Thursday, September 15 via Zoom. Preregister at https://arcminnesota.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUkcOCprDgjGtzC9XVo-CFA9Ok1m5td40EC 

Justin Page of the Minnesota Disability Law Center will present information on guardianship and the right to vote. Page will also discuss the history of voting rights laws affecting persons with disabilities, a review of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), tips on how staff can vouch for people on Election Day, accessibility requirements at polling stations and supports like ballot marking machines. Participants will learn how to file a complaint if there are problems at the polls. 

Guardianship and conservatorship can raise many questions when voting. What is the difference between the two? Both posts are court-appointed but appointees play different roles for a disabled person. 

A conservator can make financial decisions, oversee assets, pay bills and perform other tasks, with court approval required for some duties. 

A guardian can perform duties related to personal care, custody and control, including decisions on medical care and residency. Being under court-ordered status means a person needs helps with aspects of daily life. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a person is incompetent to vote. 

States have the power to set qualifications for voting as long as those as those qualifications aren’t discriminatory and don’t violate the U.S. Constitution or other federal regulations including the Federal Voting Rights Act. 

The act gives states authority to enact laws to deny the right to vote to people for two reasons: “by reason of criminal conviction or mental incapacity.” That latter reason can be misinterpreted and used to improperly prevent people with disabilities from voting, especially people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, brain injuries or memory loss. 

Unless a judge has specifically taken away the right to vote through a court order, a person under guardianship or conservatorship has the right to vote in Minnesota. This also applies for persons who have given someone else power of attorney. 

It usually takes extreme circumstances for someone to lose the right to vote. When someone is found incompetent to vote, that person’s name is sent to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, and the person is removed from the list of eligible voters. 

The Rev UP Campaign, launched by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in 2016, is a nonpartisan initiative that coordinates with national, state and local disability organizations to increase the political power of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues. The campaign focuses on voter registration, education, access and engagement. Rev UP stands for Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power! 

According to the AAPD, there are more than 38 million people with disabilities who are eligible to vote in the United States. The number of “disability voters” continues to grow when the ripple effect of the disability vote are considered. Those effects connect families, friends, advocates, educators, providers and other individuals that interact with people with disabilities. 

Read more about Rev UP at https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/join-rev-up/ 

Election coverage is funded by the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits.