More Reactions to the New York Times Story on Voter's Rights for Those with Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Based on the comments that readers have offered on Carol Bradley Bursack's and my SharePosts, the New York Times story, “States Face Decisions on Who Is Mentally Fit to Vote,” has touched a nerve. Should states allow those with dementia to vote or is this a right that the afficted should lose once they are diagnosed?

    I thought it would be interesting to hear what others who have family members or friends with dementia would say on this topic. So I sent out an e-mail requesting feedback on the story. Interestingly, every person in my very small, non-scientific poll came back with the same answer: “Let them continue voting.”
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    So here are the points that they made:

    - Sondra, whose grandmother had dementia, replied, “I believe there is a big difference between the voting rights of someone who is found criminally insane and the voting rights of someone who has been diagnosed with dementia. Criminals—whether in prison or in a mental institution—should not have the right to vote. People who have disabilities, such as dementia or Down syndrome, should be allowed to vote like any other citizens of this country.”

    - John, who has an aunt as well as a neighbor who have been diagnosed with dementia, replied, “Statistically this is only important in local elections. I say let them vote, though. They are members of the community.  They must be able to ‘handle’ the ballot without assistance.”

    - Mara, whose mother has dementia, also agreed that voting rights should be retained by those with dementia. “I feel that even normal people cast votes for positions I feel are crazy,” she said. “Why then should people with dementia be discluded from the insanity of American politics?”

    - Ann, whose mother just was diagnosed with dementia, responded: “That’s a complex issue. If a person has dementia but indicates a desire to participate in voting and in the best judgment of informed others is not being pressured to vote a certain way, he or she should have that right.”

    - Chris, whose mom is in the later stages of dementia, also pointed to the complexity of the issue. “I know my mother voted when she was living in the assisted living home and at that time, she had dementia,” she noted. Chris finally came to the conclusion that she believed that voting rights should be dependent on the stage of dementia that the person is in.

    - And my views? After watching Mom go through the steady descent into Alzheimer’s, I agree with Chris: I think it depends on the stage of dementia that the person is experiencing. For instance, my mom’s reasoning skills were extremely good for a long time, even though her memory was failing. I think that she was perfectly capable of voting, even though she was suffering Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). It wasn’t until Mom descended into hallucinations during the past two years that I would seriously have questioned her mental capability to vote.

    There is one other point that I have thought about since the Times article was published: who better to create a voting bloc to demand our political leaders actually do something about Alzheimer’s and dementia than someone who has the disease? I think of some of the people who contribute to this website (most recently, L.J., who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia) and think that their voices joined together with caregivers can make a difference in creating the political will to provide funds to support research that will end dementia and support for those who care for them.
Published On: June 21, 2007