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Elections Office Urged To Strike Offensive Language
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 14, 2004

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND--Assembly member Patsy McGlone has called for the Electoral Commission to change offensive wording in its election guidelines, after he learned the existing rules ban "idiots" and "lunatics" from voting.

McGlone was researching the law after a constituent claimed he had been removed from the voting register because he has Down syndrome.

The Electoral Commission produced a fact sheet explaining that people with mental disabilities cannot vote at a general election if they are not able to make a "reasoned judgment" on polling day.

A guide produced for electoral administrators said people with mental disabilities can register to vote, as long as they are not living in a mental hospital or "special establishment".

"The eligibility of someone who has a profound disability might, however, in certain cases be called into question because under the common law so-called 'idiots' cannot vote," the guidelines read. "So-called 'lunatics' on the other hand can vote, though only in their lucid intervals, and so could not be excluded from the register on this ground."

In the recent past, election officials have regarded the law's 120-year-old wording as out-dated.

"Even if this is antiquated legislation, it's not acceptable," McGlone, a Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) representative, said Wednesday. "This is way out of line to refer to anyone with mental health difficulties in this way."

In an update to a related story, more people with Down syndrome are claiming that they are being deliberately excluded from the voting process because of their disability.

Under current voting laws, anyone can review the list of registered voters and challenge an individual's ability to make up their own mind and cast their own ballot.

"I'm very cross about it," said Laura Kane, whose son, Robert, was removed from the register after somebody complained.

"Ever since Robert was born, this sort of thing has happened," she told the BBC. "There is a certain stigma, and people with learning disabilities are treated like second-class citizens."

Related:
"Learning disabled 'vote difficulties'" (BBC News)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/3627169.stm

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