House supports right of people with mental illness to vote

TOPEKA — The House of Representatives has passed a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee people with mental illness the right to vote.

The approval came on an overwhelming voice vote and would change a provision in the state Constitution, which allows the Legislature to deny the right to vote to persons with mental illness, prisoners, and felons who haven’t had their rights restored.

Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, who carried the bill on the floor, argued that the more than century-old provision is outdated because of improvement in the treatment and understanding of mental illness.

She also said the existing provision in the Constitution stigmatizes people with mental illness because it lumps them in with felons. “Ninety-five-thousand Kansans are second-class citizens,” Tietze said.

The amendment has already passed the Senate and will now go to voters as a ballot question in November.

The change will be primarily symbolic. Supporters have said they’re unaware of anyone who has actually been barred from voting solely on the grounds of mental illness.