With the presidential election nearing, it is easy to get wrapped up in thinking about the obvious crucial demographic groups – men, women, minorities, etc. However, one group notably left out of the mix is the mentally ill. Elections are based on a democratic system that allows citizens over the age of eighteen to vote. But where do the mentally ill stand in this and what are their rights? As it turns out, many states “have some type of law limiting voting rights for individuals based on competence,” as described in an article on CNN.com titled “Mentally ill deserve voting rights, advocates say.”
The key question is who or what determines what competence actually is and what level of it is needed to be able to vote? Is the average eighteen-year-old American more educated and capable of making an informed decision than people who “often are more in tune with what’s going on in elections because they have more time to watch television, read newspapers and research the candidates,” but happen to be labeled as mentally ill?
This matter sheds light on the issue of where to draw the arbitrary line in the very gray zone of competency, responsibility, and decision making processes in order to determine who is mentally capable and who is mentally incapable. The government officials elected will have an influence on all legislation, including the Supreme Court and the law, showing that regardless of if they are allowed to vote, the mentally ill will be affected directly by the elections. In fact, some say they “have much more at stake, because they often are dependent on the government.” So while currently there is not a clear and concise answer as to where the threshold should exist to determine competency, neuroscience could revolutionize the way it is defined and understood, thus providing a fairer perspective on who should be allowed to vote and consequently bring change in the law.