Proposed Kansas amendment gives mentally ill right to vote

TOPEKA — A proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee people with mental illness the right to vote passed the House of Representatives on Thursday.

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

Rep. Annie Tietze, D-Topeka, who carried the bill onto the floor, argued that the more than century-old provision is outdated because of improvement in the treatment and understanding of mental illness.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, pending final approval today in the House, will 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.

—Dion Lefler