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New state law provides people a pathway to vote in mental health institutions

NOW: New state law provides people a pathway to vote in mental health institutions

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Indiana Senate Bill 9 went into effect on January 1, allowing individuals seeking mental health treatment in an institution the ability to register to vote at the institution's address where they reside.

Indiana State Senator Jean Leising, one of SB 9’s authors, believes the bill is a response to older laws meant to combat voter fraud, but unintentionally, left some voices out of the vote.

“There were cases that were brought to the attention of Indiana Disability Rights that people were denied their right to vote because of an address issue,” Leising said in a phone interview.

Originally, people residing at mental health treatment institutions could not register to vote from the institution’s address, preventing them from voting.

The new bill allows those people to decide if they will register to vote at their permanent residence or the institution they are at, but not both.

Senate Bill 9:

Residence of individual in state institution. Provides that an individual committed to an institution for individuals with a mental illness may state either of the following, but not both, as the individual's residence for purposes of voting: (1) The address of the institution where the individual has been committed. (2) The address where the individual lives when the individual is not committed to an institution. (Under current law, such an individual does not gain residency in the precinct in which the institution to which the individual is committed is located.)

“It secures their right for the privilege to vote. I think that for a few, it might make a difference,” Leising said.

One of the few, John Wilford, believes this law is a huge step in the right direction.

“Everyone, disabilities or not, desires to belong and to be counted, and voting is one measure of effectiveness in achieving valuable self-esteem,” Wilford said.

Wilford is a member of the Clubhouse of Saint Joseph County Board of Directors, member of Oaklawn Foundation Board of Directors, and Chair of Oaklawn Consumer Advisory Board.

The Clubhouse provides adults with serious mental illness a place to volunteer and socialize.

Clubhouse member, Raymond Jamborski, agrees that the bill is a step in the right direction.

"For them to make the adjustment to say I can vote here and I can use this address and to feel comfortable with that state of mind and they have someplace to say I'm here and I would like to be registered to vote," Jamborski said.

Beyond enacting the bill, Wilford says that educating those impacted by the new opportunity remains a task at hand.

“My money says that 99% of those affected are not aware of this new choice, unless part of the law prescribes or mandates the communication of it to the various institutions serving the mentally ill,” Wilford said.

Indiana Disability Rights provides resources for those who would like further education on voting rights.

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