Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Amendment protects Kansans' voting rights

  • Did you know that the Kansas Constitution sanctions discrimination against all people with a mental health issue?

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  • Did you know that the Kansas Constitution sanctions discrimination against all people with a mental health issue?
    Probably not. In fact, the issue had basically flown under the political radar until 2008. That’s when a group of mental health consumers and advocates learned that the state Constitution allows the Legislature to take away the right to vote from this broad class of people with disabilities.
    To address this issue, the Kansas Mental Health Coalition (KMHC) is conducting a statewide “Yes on 2” public education campaign to protect the right to vote for all Kansans. Its goal is to convince voters to support Constitutional Amendment #2 on the ballot.
    “Voting ‘yes’ on Constitutional Amendment 2 in the November 2nd general election will protect the voting rights of our friends, family members and neighbors with mental health issues once and for all,” said Dr. Roy Menninger, chair of the KMHC.
    At issue is the fact that the Kansas Constitution contains outdated language that allows the Legislature to take away the right to vote from any Kansan with a “mental illness.” Kansans with mental illness are the only group of people with disabilities whose voting rights are discriminated against in the Kansas Constitution.
    And it’s a large group. The U.S. Surgeon General has found that 1 in 5 (20%) of all Americans has some sort of mental health issue. According to the KMHC, if their “Yes on 2” public education campaign is successful, it will protect the right to vote for over 500,000 Kansans.
    The “Yes on 2” campaign also stresses that Constitutional Amendment #2 potentially protects the right to vote for all Kansans. This is because “mental illness” is such an incredibly broad term that it encompasses conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) or many normally acquired conditions of the aging process, like Alzheimer’s.
    “If we live long enough, it is quite possible that each of us could acquire a mental health problem,” said Dr. Menninger, “which is why the ‘Yes on 2’ campaign needs to win at the ballot box.”
    The “Yes on 2” campaign argues that it is wrong for the Kansas Constitution to allow voting rights to be stripped from everyday, law-abiding and patriotic taxpayers who happen to have mental health issues. What’s more, campaign organizers say, it is unconscionable to take away the right to vote from so many Kansans.
    Among those Kansans: soldiers returning home from military conflict with PTSD and victims of sexual assault who experience mental health issues. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) studies have found that nearly 20% of all soldiers come home with PTSD, and 33% of sexual assault survivors received professional counseling for mental health issues arising from their assault.
    “Mental Illness is a natural part of the human condition that impacts so many lives,” said Rick Cagan, executive director of NAMI Kansas. “A ‘Yes’ vote on Amendment #2 protects YOUR right to vote and the right to vote of all Kansans — your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Organizers of the “Yes on 2” campaign also point out that this should be a noncontroversial, nonpartisan issue. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have endorsed it, and every state representative and state senator has either voted for it or endorsed it.
    In order to provide equal time, we tried to contact some organization to speak out against this constitutional amendment, but we literally could not find anyone. There was no organized opposition as this amendment made its way through the legislative process, and there remains no organized opposition. However, the “Yes on 2” campaign believes that their biggest challenge is not what groups or individuals may say publicly, but rather what people may think privately in the voting booth. This is because the term “mental illness,” unfortunately, still carries a negative stigma.
    “A big part of the ‘Yes on 2’ campaign is battling the misperceptions about mental illness,” said Amy Campbell, executive director of the KHMC. “This is really about educating the public to understand that people with mental illness are everyday people — they pay taxes, work jobs, and raise families. The Kansas Legislature should not be able to take away their or your right to vote.”
    Ultimately, a vote of the people will decide the issue, which will appear on the November 2nd general election ballot. According to the KMHC, if a majority of voters vote “yes” on Constitutional Amendment #2, then the right to vote for all Kansans with mental health issues will be protected—now and in the future.
    “We encourage every voter to go to www.protectvotingrights.com to find out more about this important issue and then vote ‘yes’ on Amendment #2 in the November 2nd general election,” said Dr. Menninger.
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