Voters with mental disabilities deserve a say at polls, advocates say I Am Voting campaign encouraging participation of people with mental disabilities in #elxn2017

Alexander Magnussen is over the age of 18. He’s a resident of British Columbia.

But he also has autism and, until recently, believed his diagnosis made him ineligible to vote.

“I would hear people talk about voting and I would assume that I was not allowed to vote … I would mind my own business,” he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

“I never took it upon myself to ask, for one, and two, nobody ever really asked me, “Hey, Al, are you going to vote?”

“So I didn’t know.”

Magnussen is now an advocate with the I Am Voting campaign, a project of the UBC Centre for Inclusion and Citizenship that encourages equal participation in elections for people with mental disabilities.

He and other advocates say that when it comes to getting people with mental disabilities involved in the electoral system, there’s a lot of work to do.

Historical discrimination

Timothy Stainton, a UBC instructor who’s also with the campaign, said many Canadians with mental disabilities have been prevented or discouraged from voting over the years. Some weren’t allowed to vote until the 1980s.

Because of that historical precedent, he said it’s important to get the word out about rights for these voters.

“It’s really an information issue — letting people know they can vote, letting families know, service providers and support workers, and letting them know the kinds of things that will help them do that in a way that is responsible and makes sure their voice is heard,” he said.

Magnussen voted for the first time in the 2015 federal election. On Tuesday, he’ll vote in his first provincial election.

“I just think it’s amazing,” he said. “I take it very seriously. We held a candidates’ meeting. I just think it’s super important. I’m looking forward to it.

“I think everyone should vote. Who are we to decide who is cognitively able to and who is not?”

Listen to the interview here:

On The Coast
Voters with intellectual disabilities deserve their rights, advocates say

00:00 08:04

With files from CBC Radio One’s On The Coast