The 2020 General Election is less than a month away and millions of Americans will not be able to cast ballots. Among them, pop icon Britney Spears. Spears, 38, is among an estimated 1.5 million Americans who live under a conservatorship (or guardianship, depending on the state), meaning that a judge has appointed a guardian who makes decisions about daily life and financial affairs and, in some states, voting.
There are two groups of Americans who can be excluded from voting under federal election law, according to the American Bar Association–felons and people categorized in some way as having mental impairments.
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Conservatees and Voting
In Spears’ case, she has been a conservatee in California since 2008 after having multiple public breakdowns. Her father, Jamie Spears, makes financial and personal decisions for the star. The #FreeBritney movement, which has trended on social media sites like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram in recent months, have shed light on conservatorships and the right to vote.
Conservatorships are often used for people who cannot make decisions about their finances or healthcare. A court appoints an adult to make those decisions for the conservatee after evidence is presented that convinces the judge that a conservatorship is warranted. Individuals who know they need help can create a Durable Power of Attorney to name the person they want to make decisions on their behalf. A conservatorship is a different process because it often involves individuals who are not voluntarily seeking help, or do not have the mental capacity to understand they should be seeking help, even though they need it.
The law in California regarding conservatorships and voting changed in 2016. Under the new law pertaining to voting and conservatees, there is a presumption of competence to vote, which can be challenged by evidence to the contrary before a judge or jury. But nationwide, thousands of Americans have lost their right to vote because they were deemed incompetent. According to Pew Trusts, laws in 39 states and Washington D.C. allow judges to take away a person’s voting rights if they are deemed mentally incompetent. This includes individuals with schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome, autism, and more.
Disability advocates argue that conservatorships often have nothing to do with a person’s ability to vote, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that reasonable accommodations should be made so that people with disabilities are still able to participate in elections. In an election year that is fraught with conflict, uncertainty, and lack of trust, the laws governing who gets to vote and who doesn’t have received extra scrutiny, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Felons and Voting
The other group excluded from voting are almost 6 million Americans who have been convicted of felony offenses. According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, restoration of voting varies depending on the state. Often, the prison is responsible for informing election officials that an individual’s right to vote has been reinstated. That person is then responsible for registering to vote.
However, felons in the District of Columbia, Maine and Vermont never lose the right to vote (even while incarcerated), while other states require a waiting period or additional steps before voting rights are restored. Florida, for example, allows persons convicted of felonies who have completed all terms of their sentences, or had their voting rights restored by the State Clemency Board in the case of murder or sexual offenses, to register to vote. The required terms of sentencing may include prison time, probation or parole, and the payment of all fines, fees, and restitution ordered as part of the sentence.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.