Voting as an EU citizen with a disability

24 May 2024

TLDR: Around 400,000 EU citizens with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues under legal guardianship are barred from voting. Despite some progress, many countries still enforce outdated guardianship laws that severely restrict their legal rights. The European Commission's efforts to address this issue need to be revised, and there is a call for harmonized voting rules across the EU.
The disenfranchisement of approximately 400,000 adult EU citizens with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues who require legal guardianship remains a significant concern. Despite needing support daily, these individuals are barred from voting in some EU countries due to outdated guardianship laws. Countries like Estonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Poland do not grant voting rights to individuals under guardianship. In contrast, others, such as Germany, Italy, and France, allow full voting rights but may restrict them from standing as candidates.
Although progress has been made since the last EU elections in 2019, reducing the number of excluded voters by half, a substantial number of individuals still remain disenfranchised. The European Court of Human Rights has upheld national restrictions on voting rights, arguing that only citizens capable of making conscious and informed decisions should participate in public affairs. This exclusion creates a sense of being second-class citizens among people with disabilities, based on the flawed premise that other voters are not similarly influenced or manipulated.
In Belgium, Soufiane El Amrani, a 41-year-old Belgian accessibility expert, lost his voting rights in 2015. In Belgium, a judge decides on the right to vote once guardianship is established, often resulting in overprotection without proper assessment. Restoring voting rights is a complex and expensive process, leading many to give up rather than fight for their rights.
Despite the EU and all member states having signed the legally binding UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which affirms the right to vote for people with disabilities, the European Commission has shown little interest in intervening. Recommendations against the blanket removal of voting rights are seen as insufficient. There is a call for the EU to harmonize voting rules to ensure the rights of disabled individuals. While optimism exists for future changes, many individuals like El Amrani face significant barriers to exercising their voting rights.
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