About 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws in their constitutions that can limit people with mental disabilities from voting if they have been ruled "mentally incapacitated," or incompetent, by a court. This means they have been determined unable to manage their own affairs or make specific life decisions, which, other than voting for candidates, can include managing their money, entering a contract, making medical decisions or caring for their children.
People with mental disabilities or patients who are receiving psychiatric treatment do not automatically lose their eligibility to vote in any state. Court-ordered voting restrictions, however, can apply to people judged mentally incompetent due to a range of mental disabilities, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, or autism.
Proponents of these voting limits say they are in place to protect people from voter fraud. Reagan George, president of Virginia Voter's Alliance, a group that monitors voting in the commonwealth, says he has seen people taking advantage of the votes of people with mental disabilities.
"It's a way of harvesting votes that I don't think is correct," he said.
The limits vary from state to state, and it is unclear to what degree they are enforced. Some states do not allow anyone who has been judged mentally incompetent by a court to vote, while other states require that judges specifically revoke voting rights for the limits to apply.
Mark Salzer, a Temple University professor and chairman of the school's Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, said voting rights for people with mental health disabilities haven't been at the forefront of recent, widespread debate because people tend to think the laws are correct.