Topeka Kansans with mental illnesses on Friday urged voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would delete a provision that allows the Legislature to take away their right to vote.
At a news conference in the Capitol, speakers referred to the current language in the Kansas Constitution as outdated, unjust, shameful, stigmatizing, morally bankrupt and overly broad.
Justin Brokar, a Washburn University student, has been active in politics since he was a teenager, and was the youngest national delegate at the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Brokar said he has struggled with depression and self injury for years but has received help at a community mental health center that allows him to continue his advocacy and education.
Noting that many citizens suffer some form of mental illness, he said, "I don't want to allow the Legislature to interfere with one in five Kansans' right to vote."
Although the Legislature has the authority under the State Constitution to take away voting rights to those with mental illness, it never has.
Still, those advocating for a `yes' vote on Constitutional Amendment No. 2, said that didn't matter.
"I have a personal response to comments that it has never been used or that it is unlikely it would ever be used," said Kathleen Wilson, an education supervisor from Topeka, who suffers form Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. "For those of us who have been given the label of mental illness by others, keeping it in the constitution gives a powerful, subtle message, that we just don't deserve to add to the overt experiences we go through already," she said.
The proposed amendment was put on the Nov. 2 ballot overwhelmingly by the Legislature, and has been endorsed by most candidates.
Still, advocates are concerned that voters may not be fully informed about the measure when they decide it.
"We're still battling the stigma that goes on with mental illness," said Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center.
Advocates said the mental illness language currently in the Kansas Constitution was too broad and could be construed to mean soldiers with PTSD or people with depression, anxiety or Attention Deficit Disorder.
"If we all live long enough, we will have some variety of what could be called a mental illness," said Dr. Roy Menninger, chair of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.