Who Votes?

Voting is a hot topic at the moment, as we tread the time between the Independence Referendum and the 2015 General Election. The percentage of young voters has been of interest to politicians, with worries that my generation were disconnecting with the political process. Many strategies and projects have been put in place to engage with these voters my parties who are desperate to secure their vote.

Parties are less interested in securing vote from other groups, such as learning disabled and mentally ill adults. I have worked with adults with learning difficulties, and many people are surprised to discover that they are as eligible to vote as I am. Su Sayer writes for the Guardian saying that “many people still believe that people with learning difficulties or mental health needs shouldn’t have the right to vote which is one of the many factors why they vote in lower numbers than the rest of the populations”. Work has been done to make voting more accessible, withEasy Read guides to the polling booth and Easy News newspapers so that people can keep up to date with current affairs and policies that may affect their vote. This means that many people who are often considered ‘unable’ to vote can exercise their voting rights in a supported way. If we look at the Mental Capacity Act 2005 …

Mental Capacity Act 2005

1 (2) A person must be assumed to have capacity unless sit is established that he lacks capacity

1(3) A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision unless all practicable steps to help him to do so have been taken without success

1(4) A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision

This clearly undermines any belief that learning disabled adults can’t vote.

But what about incarcerated adults?

Ben Gunn is an ex-prisoner who served a 36 year sentence for a murder he committed aged 14. He blogged during his sentence, critiquing the criminal justice system, and continues to do so on his release. He believes prisoners should have the right to vote because…

“… rights define the relationship between the people and the state … they are the line of demarcation that defines the sphere of the individual from government intrusion … they are absolutes that define the nature of both the individual and the state”

And whose life is more affected by the relationship between state and individual that those in prison? The argument I’ve heard before is that is someone has chosen to break the law, they don’t deserve the right to have a voice about who chooses those rules.

But rights are not to be ‘deserved’ or ‘earned’, all you need to do to have a right is to be human. Gunn claims this is to “prevent governments oppressing unpopular or difficult individuals or groups”. Patients who have been sectioned because of poor mental health are still allowed to vote, because they meet the definitions of capacity outlined in the Mental Capacity Act above. I draw my attention back to the 1(4):

A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision

Many people in prison are there because they made unwise decisions. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, perhaps due to a longterm lack of support, care, education, advice, emotional or financial stability and a huge amount of other socioeconomic factors. Perhaps because they were forced.

But, unlike any other group in society, incarcerated adults loose their human rights because society believes they lack capacity due to past unwise decisions.

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