Stop preventing people with disabilities from voting

The Australian Government should scrap discriminatory laws that prevent persons “of unsound mind” from voting, the Human Rights Law Centre has said in a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said democracy was all about inclusion, not exclusion.

“As a community we shouldn’t be preventing people living with a disability from participating in our democracy. We should be providing the necessary support to ensure everyone has an opportunity to have their say by casting their vote,” said Ms Howie

The Australian Electoral Act currently prohibits the enrolment of persons who “by reason of being of unsound mind are incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting.” The Law Reform Commission is currently considering the laws as part of its inquiry into Legal Barriers for People with Disability.

Ms Howie said that it is time to remove archaic language from the Electoral Act.

“The law is written in vague, derogatory and stigmatising language that does not reflect the true capacity of people with disabilities to make decisions about voting,” said Ms Howie.

The “unsound mind” exclusion discriminates against people with disabilities, infringing their right to equality and right to vote. Under international human rights law, Australia cannot limit a person’s right to vote because of their disability.

In 2013, the United Nations expert committee on disability rights called on Australia to amend the unsound mind exclusion. Canada removed the exclusions for people with disabilities back in 1993. In 2012 Croatia changed their law to allow all people with disability to vote, in order to meet their human rights obligations.

Ms Howie said the exclusion is discriminatory because only particular people living with disabilities are required to pass the test of understanding the nature and consequences of enrolment and voting.

“The reality is, levels of political knowledge and awareness vary widely throughout our entire community. Discriminating against people with disabilities is not the solution. Helping people to be as informed as possible and free to make their own choice is what we need to focus on,” said Ms Howie.

HRLC’s submission can be found here: Disenfranchising persons of “unsound mind”: discrimination in Australia’s electoral law - HRLC Submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry on Legal Barriers for People with Disability

For further information contact: Emily Howie on 0421 370 997or via emily.howie@hrlc.org.au