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Taking the vote away from the mentally ill

Posted Feb 15 2011 11:07am

Tennessee is getting ready to pass a law which would, in effect, take away the right to vote by many of its citizens who are mental health consumers.  I dont think this is the intention of the law, but it will be an unforseen byproduct unless something is done.  The letter below is written by Anthony Fox the executive director the the TMHCA.  It explains the situation well.  Please read it and pass it on to others.  Let your voice be heard.


February 14, 2011

The Honorable Senator Bill Ketron

301 6th Avenue North Suite 5 Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243

Dear Senator Ketron,

On behalf of Tennessee Mental Health Consumers’ Association I am writing you regarding SB 0016 that requires new kinds of identification for voters. As Peer Advocates for people with mental illness we see a different facet of this change and what it might mean for the population we serve.

We feel that it will be impossible for many of our constituents to obtain appropriate documentation (Tennessee driver license; a valid photo identification card issued by the state of Tennessee, any other state, or the United States; a valid photo identification license issued by the Tennessee department of safety) for the following reasons.

1 – Many of our constituents live in group (care) homes. These are adults who have given over conservatorship to the owners of the homes. Through the conservatorship/tenant agreement the group home owners obtain the tenants rights to their food stamp cards and their SSI/SSDI stipend. Thus leaving a very minimal amount of resources left to purchase general everyday essentials and creating a financial barrier to obtaining the proposed documentation.

2 – TMHCA constituents that are unable to live independently who have given over conservatorship frequently move and do not have the recurring resources such as transportation, financial means and freedom to obtain the proposed documentation.

3 – TMHCA constituents who are indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without payment of a fee will not have the means of transportation to obtain an affidavit of identity on a form provided by the county election commission in order to vote.

We request that you amend part two (2) “The requirements of this bill would not apply to: (2) A full-time resident of a licensed nursing home, home for the aged or similar institution who is voting by absentee ballot attested by two absentee voting deputies at the institution pursuant to present law” to include an exemption for people with mental illness under the described circumstances of the letter that are already facing HUGE barriers to the political process.

We agree that some limitation on access to the ballot box is needed to protect the integrity of the process. We hope that you will find exceptions for people with mental illness and qualify the bill in such a way that will encourage them to be voters.


Anthony Fox, Executive Director                                                            Libby Garner, Advocate and Legislative Liaison

Tennessee Mental Health Consumers’ Association                                 Tennessee Mental Health Consumers’ Association


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