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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2007

Protect right to vote

IT'S BEEN a national scandal for years that so many Americans fail to exercise their right to vote. Now, in a fit of silliness, some states are trying to take that privilege from people with mental problems.

Obviously, both understand the process. So as lawyers wrangle with whether "non compos mentis," or not being in control of one's mind, is different from "not guilty by reason of insanity," they are missing the point. Clearly, the men's psychiatric evaluations are all about how dangerous they are, not their ability to vote.

Had the men been convicted and imprisoned, there would be no debate. Only Maine and Vermont allow imprisoned felons to vote. Meanwhile, efforts are under way in a few states to make it easier for the mentally ill to secure voting rights, while some people are understandably concerned about the voting rights and risks of those with Alzheimer's and dementia.

One obvious risk is for someone to take advantage of a person whose mental abilities have deteriorated, and pretend to help them vote, when in fact they are making ballot choices for them. That was an issue in a recent campaign for city clerk in Detroit. Such vulnerable citizens need to be protected. Meanwhile, any U.S. citizen who's able to register to vote should be allowed to do so.

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