Arlington, VA — The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) declared today that Kansas voters will demonstrate national leadership if they "Vote Yes on 2!" in the referendum on a constitutional amendment on Election Day, Nov 2.
The amendment would eliminate language in the state constitution that singles out people living with mental illness and gives the legislature power to prohibit them from voting. Both houses of the state legislature have already approved the change, which requires voter approval.
The Kansas Mental Health Coalition is leading the campaign for the amendment. NAMI Kansas is a member of the coalition. NAMI's national organization also is supporting the proposal.
"Two of the four presidents carved on Mount Rushmore—Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt—struggled with mental illness," said NAMI's national director Mike Fitzpatrick. "No one has ever suggested that they should have been denied the right to vote."
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for which former U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas was a driving force in Congress.
"The ADA was an important step forward as a civil rights law," Fitzpatrick said. "Through Senator Dole, Kansas played a leading role in its enactment. This year, the state can make history again."
"The ADA was intended to end discrimination against people living with disabilities, including mental illness," Fitzpatrick said. "The amendment has the same goal. Through the referendum, Kansas has an opportunity to lead the country by taking another step forward."
Fitzpatrick outlined reasons to vote for the amendment.
-- "This is more than a symbolic issue. Even though the Kansas legislature has not used the constitutional provision to pass a law to prohibit voting by people with mental illness, the authority to do so hangs as a potential threat over the head of any person who lives with a mental illness."
-- "The current provision represents stigma and discrimination. Stigma discourages people from getting help when they need it. People living with mental illness internalize the fact that such a provision is in the state constitution. It increases the stigma already imposed on them and undermines the opportunity for recovery.
-- "The trend today is to eliminate language that has no definite or appropriate meaning. Congress for example recently passed legislation to remove "mentally retarded" from federal laws. Kansas can help lead the way to encourage other states to review their own language and provisions."
"Both nationally and at the state and local level, NAMI respectfully asks Kansas voters to 'Vote Yes on 2,'" Fitzpatrick said. "It's the right thing to do."