Frequently asked Questions about Mental Competency, Guardianships and Voting Rights

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Under the law, only a state court may declare a person mentally incompetent and therefore unable to exercise the right to vote. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis by a Superior Court judge. It cannot be assumed people under a guardianship due to their mental capacity are ineligible to vote.

Can people subject to a guardianship register to vote?

Whether a person under guardianship may vote depends on when the guardianship was imposed, and whether the guardianship is full or partial.

If the guardianship was imposed before July 24, 2005 and it is a full guardianship, the person is not eligible to vote unless the court order specifically states otherwise. If the guardianship was imposed before July 24, 2005 and it is a partial guardianship, the person retains the right to vote unless the court order specifically states otherwise. If the guardianship was imposed on or after July 24, 2005, regardless of whether it is full or partial, the person retains the right to vote unless the court order specifically states otherwise.

Is there a minimum competency for voter registration?

A person must be 18 years of age or older to register to vote. There is no test to determine competency.

Can you give me background information on this process?

Article VI, Section 3 of the Washington State Constitution disqualifies "all persons while they are judicially declared mentally incompetent" from exercising the right to vote.

State law, RCW 11.88.010(5), governs how a guardianship impacts the right to vote. As explained above, this law was changed in 2005.

What causes a person to be placed in a guardianship?

A guardianship may be necessitated by a person’s diminished mental capacity. Mental capacity may be diminished due to developmental delay, mental illness, injury, or aging. Nothing about this process is automatic; it is the result of a family member or legal guardian requesting court action. A guardianship may be full or partial. A partial guardianship is also known as a limited guardianship.

It is the responsibility of each person, or the person’s guardian, to know whether the person is eligible to vote. You must be at least 18 years of age, a citizen of the United States of America, and have your full civil rights in order to vote. A legal guardian may not vote on behalf of the incapacitated person.

What are the penalties for voting or registering to vote while ineligible?

These crimes are class C felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. RCW 29A.84.130 governs registering to vote when unqualified, and RCW 29A.84.660 governs voting when unqualified.

What can I do if I know someone is not eligible to vote but is registered to vote?

Suggest to the person that he or she contact the county elections department right away to have his or her registration canceled.

What should I do if I want to challenge another person’s voter registration?

You must file a voter challenge with the county elections department in the county where the voter is registered to vote.

Additional Links
Information on Guardianship from Washington Law Help.