Voting Rights and Guardianship


Court in Phoenix challenging Arizona’s voting laws. The challenged provisions prevent people for whom guardians have been appointed from voting in state, local or federal elections.

Arizona’s Constitution provides, in Article VII, Section 2, that “[n]o person under guardianship, non compos mentis, or insane, shall be qualified to vote at any election….” Statutes adopted to implement that provision require the Superior Court Clerk to notify the County Recorder whenever a person has been “declared insane” or had a “guardian of the person and estate” appointed. Perhaps because of the archaic language of the statute, few (if any)of Arizona’s counties comply with this requirement.

Carl Pierson, a 37-year-old Globe resident, is the plaintiff in the Center’s lawsuit. Mr. Pierson is mildly retarded, and the Gila County Public Fiduciary has been appointed as his guardian. Although he registered to vote last May, his name was removed from the voter lists this month.

The lawsuit claims that denial of the right to vote to all wards in guardianship proceedings violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “equal protection” of the law to all citizens. The suit also alleges that the Arizona provisions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was adopted by Congress last year, and the Voting Rights Act.

If the lawsuit is successful, the result would probably be that guardianship wards will be permitted to vote unless someone specifically challenges their capacity to understand the voting process. Estimates indicate that over 3,000 Arizona residents are under guardianship or conservatorship.

Federal Study of Abuse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it will spend a million dollars on a three-year investigation of abuse, neglect and exploitation of older Americans. Funds will come from the Administration on Aging and the Administration for Children and Families; the study will be conducted by the National Center on Elder Abuse in Washington.

Fernando Torres-Gil, assistant secretary for aging of the Department, announced the study last week. He described previous studies which indicate that as many as 1.5 million senior Americans (approximately one in 20) may be victims of abuse, and speculated that the actual numbers may be much higher.

Reasons for suspected under-reporting of abuse include the shame frequently felt by victims, as well as the fact that police and prosecutors are ill-equipped to work with the elderly. Torres-Gil described elder abuse as “the hidden shame of the American family.”


A larger question posed by Carl Pierson’s case may go unanswered. If Mr. Pierson is able to exercise the discretion involved in voting (and all indications are that he is), why does he have a guardian? If a guardian has been appointed because Division of Developmental Disabilities rules require a guardianship proceeding as a condition of providing services, shouldn’t that law be challenged first?

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