The right to vote for Missourians, with or without a developmental disability, is a civil right – what happened in Phelps County and what we learned
On May 26, 2022, Phelps County clerk, Pamela K. Grow, told the Phelps County Commission, that she would be deleting the voter registrations of individuals who have guardians; even if a court order expressly states that, those individuals retain their rights to vote. Fortunately, because of the work of Sheltered Workshop advocates and self-advocates throughout the county, Grow rescinded her statement.
The right to vote for Missourians, with or without a developmental disability, is a civil right
There are several misconceptions related to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their right to vote. The first misconception is that guardianship assumes incapacity in all aspects of life. While an individual may not have the physical ability to drive a vehicle, this does not affect their ability to vote on a policy that will have a direct impact on their life.
The second misconception is that there should be a value associated with an individual’s employment status or spending authority that determines an individual’s right to cast a ballot. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) forced into states of poverty, do not have the ability to develop spending habits similar to those without developmental disabilities.
The third misconception is that someone who does not use traditional forms of communication, does not have the mental capacity to vote. Many of the issues and bills voted on at local, state and federal levels are systems that affect people with I/DD. It is critical that these individuals have an equal opportunity to influence systems. One of most impactful ways of providing this influence is by voting.
The Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities (MACCEA), a statewide organization, is dedicated to maintaining and improving the quality of county government.
“As election authorities, our duty is to ensure accessible, trustworthy, and secure elections in accordance with Missouri law. All eligible voters have the right to register and cast a ballot, but our state law also includes provisions for revoking that right, including when a voter is adjudged incapacitated,” said in a written statement by MACCEA. “Our role is to accept any judicial determination about a voter’s eligibility and apply the relevant law so that if a court preserves an individual’s right to vote, their name remains on the voter roll. That separation of powers strengthens the integrity of our elections and allows local election authorities to fairly and impartially serve Missouri voters.”
Guardianship in Missouri and prioritizing alternatives
People with I/DD are disproportionally placed under guardianship in Missouri.
“Everyone has the right to direct their own lives to the maximum of their ability, people should not be ordered or kept under guardianship just because they have a disability, need (or want) support, or live (or want to live) in a particular place,” said Emily Hartley, Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council deputy director.
There is a substantial need for more education and advocacy of alternatives to guardianship. Missouri’s restoration process for individuals with I/DD who want to change their guardianship order is cumbersome and complex, making it nearly impossible for individuals under guardianship to do so.
Advocacy starts by reaching out to local officials today
MODDC encourages Missourians to research their local officials, to begin building relationships and to share their stories. These steps are three critical components to advocacy and education. It is very effective to simply introduce yourself and share your story. Research your local officials, stop by their office, invite them to forums and town halls and encourage them to participate in national, state and local conversations that are important to you.
The Missouri Developmental Disabilities Council (MODDC) is a federally-funded, 23-member, consumer-driven council appointed by the Governor. Its mandate under P.L. 106-402, the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, is to assure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to needed community services, individualized supports, and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity and integration in all aspects of community life.
To learn more or to get involved, visit www.moddcouncil.org.