Voters with disabilities need to know their rights

Susan lives with a traumatic brain injury. She makes her home with her sister, who is also her legal guardian. […]

Pile of red, white and blue pins that say "Your Vote Counts".

Susan lives with a traumatic brain injury. She makes her home with her sister, who is also her legal guardian. Susan follows public affairs and is interested in voting for her next state senator. She and her sister don’t agree on politics. Can Susan’s sister prevent her from voting? 

Craig lives with developmental disabilities. He resides in a group home, holds a job at a grocery store, and take part in community activities. He has met some city council candidates and wants to vote for one of them in the next election. He has a conservator who oversees his financial affairs. Should Craig vote? 

The answer to both questions is yes. Persons under guardianship and conservatorship in Minnesota can vote. This is often misunderstood, by people in those roles, family members of people with disabilities and even election officials. 

Ramsey County provides useful information outlining guardianship and conservatorship issues. Guardianships or conservatorships are designed for those people in need of protection in personal or financial matters. 

A conservator or guardian is someone appointed by the probate court to handle a person’s affairs. Before an appointment is made, the person for whom a guardianship or conservatorship is sought is called a respondent.  After an appointment is made, the person is called a protected person (in a conservatorship) or a ward (in a guardianship). 

So what’s the difference? A guardian takes care of a ward’s personal affairs such as medical care, nutrition, clothing shelter, residence and safety. 

A conservator manages a protected person’s financial affairs finances, property and real estate. 

A person can have both a conservator and a guardian, and the conservator and the guardian may be the same person. 

Guardians and conservators are subject to the control and direction of the court at all times and in all things. They can control many aspects of a person’s life and sometimes that control becomes controversial. 

But conferring this kind of status on someone does not mean that person can tell their ward how to vote. 

People who are under guardianship and/or conservatorship need to know their rights. Unless a person’s right to vote has been specially revoked by a court, being under guardianship or conservatorship does not prohibit a person from voting. 

Voters with disabilities, especially developmental disabilities or other disabilities that may affect their ability to communicate, may encounter election officials who question their competency to vote. Be ready to defend one’s right to vote is crucial. 

The Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities provides information on voter’s rights, in the form of a single-page sheet that outlines a voter’s legal rights, and which state and federal laws apply. Voters are encouraged to print out the sheet and take it with them to the polls. 

Find it at MN Department of Administration Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and take it when voting. 

Voters with disabilities have the right to vote and the right to seek assistance or bring a helper to the polls. bring a trusted family member or friend. Ask the head election judge to assign helpers if no one can go along to the polls. 

An eligible voter cannot be turned away from the polling place. Voters with disabilities sometimes are unfairly challenged. Answer questions truthfully and indicate eligibility to voter. Voters who swear to tell the truth, answer the questions and sign the roster, must be allowed to vote. 

Any eligible voter who encounters problems at the polls can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE. 
Lawyers are available to give voters with disabilities and other voters advice and help with voting problems. 

Election coverage is prepared by Access Press staff, with funding from Ramsey County Elections. 

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