Voting Rights for People Under Guardianship
Friday September 21st, 2012
During the past legislative session, the Maryland legislature finally
restored voting rights to individuals who are under guardianship due to a
mental disability. Before the passage of this important new legislation,
Maryland’s law automatically prevented anyone under guardianship for a
mental disability from registering to vote.
The appointment of a guardian means that a person cannot take care of daily
needs, such as medical care or housing. Despite having a guardian, however,
a person may still wish to vote and the new law preserves that right. Under
the new law, persons under guardianship for a mental disability can now
register to vote unless a court specifically finds that they are unable to
communicate a desire to vote. If a court makes such a finding in a court
order, the person is not eligible to vote. If the court order makes no
determination regarding voter eligibility, the person is free to register to
This change to Maryland’s voting law is timely. In the fall, we will be
choosing a Governor and other members of our government. The new law
creates a significant opportunity for people under guardianship for a mental
disability to register so that they can vote in the upcoming election.
Marylanders with disabilities have a personal interest in helping to shape
our government and the laws of our state. If a person under guardianship
for a mental disability is interested in voting, he or she can register
unless the court order providing for their guardianship specifically
indicates otherwise. A family member, guardian or provider can help start
the process by first finding out if the person is interested in voting.
Voters must register by August 24th to vote in the primary election and by
October 12th to vote in the general election. Any voter can also request an
absentee ballot. The Maryland Disability Law Center (MDLC) is available to
register individuals and can provide assistance in the registration process.
MDLC is also available to provide information on voters’ rights. It is
important to remember that any voter who needs assistance in the voting
process is entitled to that assistance. While Maryland’s voting system is
accessible, voters with disabilities may need additional help casting their
ballots. A guardian may assist a person in registering and in voting, but a
guardian or any other person cannot vote in the place of the voter.
Another change this year is that there will be early voting for both the
primary and the general elections. This means that voters do not have to
wait to vote on the same day. Early voting for the primary begins on
September 3rd and on October 22nd for the general election. All early
voting centers are fully accessible and may provide a more convenient way to
vote. Check with your local board of elections for the location of early
voting centers near you. If you are unable to vote early, remember that the
primary election is September 14th and the general election is November 2nd.
While most local polling sites are accessible, you can find out if a polling
site has any accessibility issue by going to the State Board of Election
website at http://www.mdelections.org/.
For more information on voting issues or to report a concern, contact Alyssa
Fieo at the Maryland Disability Law Center at (410)727-6352, ext. 2507.