Voting When You Have Intellectual Disabilities

My Youngest Can Now Register To Vote In Maryland…

Seth Underwood
Invisible Illness
Published in
6 min readJul 11, 2023


As of the writing of this piece, there are about 480 plus more days until the U.S. Presidential elections on November 5th, 2024.

Intellectually disabled individuals, like my youngest child, who recently turned 17, are part of an overlooked vulnerable voter group. In Maryland, she’s allowed to register to vote, but can’t until she’s 18 like everyone else. Ironically, she’ll be old enough to vote in the 2024 presidential election due to when her birthday falls on the calendar. And despite her intellectual disabilities, she has “strong dislikes” on some candidates running. And isn’t that enough to vote for someone or not? If you like them or not?

While as a long-time voter, I’ve tried to review each candidate’s position on things. Weigh the evidence before me and make my choice. I know very well that many simply choose people they either like or vote against those they dislike. Heck, many don’t even vote in the various local or state amendments or uncontested contests.

But many states have prohibitions against voting for those mentally disabled that are under guardianship. I can understand the meaning behind this, and it does seem logical to me. But a few states go further than that and allow judges to declare voters who have psychiatric disorders or as Kentucky puts it “’Idiots’ and ‘insane’ persons shall not have the right to vote. KY. CONST. § 145(3).”

There’s only a handful of states that have no restrictions, like Kansas, which goes as far as allowing anyone with a mental or physical life-limiting disability the right to have someone help them vote. KAN. STAT. ANN. § 25–2909.

Barriers to Voting

Now there are certain federal protections that are supposed to guarantee access to people with intellectual disabilities, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act. The problem is both federal and state enforcement is lacking.

While 85% of people with intellectual disability have a mild form, like my daughter, one can extrapolate from the CDC data that there are about 5.53 million people in the US with such a mild intellectual disability. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 233,565,291 potential voting-aged citizens in 2018. These mildly intellectually disabled individuals represent about 2% of the potential voters. You’d think a politician would care about losing 2% of the voting franchise.

After addressing competency state laws, voter registration is the next issue. Each state has the freedom to create its own rules, although I will use Maryland as an example.

Maryland Voter Registration

For Maryland voter registration, aside from the issues of being a U.S. citizen, a Maryland resident, at least 16 years of age, not under guardianship or found by a court unable to communicate a desire to vote, convicted of buying or selling votes, and/or currently serving a felony conviction. You must also supply a Maryland driver’s license or MVA ID card number. If a person has neither, then they must supply the last four digits of their social security number per Election Law Article § 3–202.

Although Maryland offers an easy way to get a Voluntary Developmental Disability Disclosure Card for persons with disabilities, it cannot be used as identification, as it is not an MVA ID card. Because of federal laws, both ID and Driver’s Licenses require an extensive list of documentation to support U.S. Citizenship or Permanent Residence, along with proof of Maryland residential address such as banking accounts, credit card statements, medical bills, cable bills, or the like. There’s the option of providing a U.S. High School Report Card and voter registration as proof of residence.

In Maryland, it appears far easier for an intellectually disabled person to register to vote first than get their ID card as the one helps to get the other assuming the person has an original birth certificate and social security card. Something we will be testing out with our youngest later this August if all goes well.

If a child has worse than mild intellectual disabilities, I might look at starting with a U.S. passport while they are still a young child (below the age of 16). The reason is that the identification information mostly falls on the parent. Then when they turn 16, you can use the previous passport as proof of identity, and their birth certificate as proof of citizenship. But always check with an attorney specializing in these matters first.

Actual Voting

Maryland is NOT one of the 33 states that require identification from a non-photo ID to a strict photo ID to vote. Requiring an ID to vote creates a barrier for groups without utility bills or bank accounts when those IDs require such documents. A lot of them do not even work at all.

And if they qualify for Social Security Disability, a paper Social Security statement can take up to six weeks to get once requested via a form. Otherwise, you could print it out from online access. Normal access to required documented support is not available to this demographic, and the federal government has provided no special exceptions like a notarized affidavit.

Honestly, I think this is because most politicians don’t think these people can vote. Not unlike certain groups of people during other points of time in America’s history.

Maryland law consistent with federal law allows a disabled person to bring a person “to help” them to vote, provided they are not their employer, a union officer, or a challenger or watcher. Even two election judges may help.

And Md. Election Code Ann. § 10–310 states that the Election Judge must ask the person to state their month and date of birth (and address under certain circumstances), and double-check this against the registration list. This would be difficult for my daughter, as she has a severe speech impediment. Hopefully, an electronic talking device would be acceptable. But I could see issues and potential frustrations which are easily avoided by simply doing mail-in ballots.

Since the 2020 pandemic, Maryland has moved to a permanent mail-in ballot, allowing all residents to sign up for this option regardless of reason. This option is by far, in my opinion, the best option for those with intellectual disabilities. It avoids potential crowds at voting polls, along with potential conflicts from election judges or a challenger when they physically see/deal with the intellectually disabled voter.

My daughter automatically appears to others to have some intellectual issues because of her mannerisms and physical appearance. And many know of intellectual issues with people who have Down’s Syndrome, so a person presenting with physical Down’s Syndrome aspects may be challenged as an eligible voter. This is why some parents do reconstructive plastic surgery with Down’s Syndrome children to change their appearance for greater social acceptance.

Maryland law allows for both another person to deliver the ballot to a drop box if needed, and to assist with filling out the ballot with the same criteria as above, besides signing a Certification of Person Assisting.

Maryland is by far one of the most intellectually disabled-friendly states for voting. The only issue deals with the state constitutional element of having guardianship disqualify a person. But honestly, I don’t know how to get around this one like some states have done.

For example, Colorado as of 2016 had no such constitutional disqualifications, but here again, a non-photo ID is required to vote if in person on election day. But mail-in ballots are available in Colorado, so I would opt for that, if possible, for these voters.

I understand the logic of disqualifying a person under guardianship, but voting in our American democracy should be simple. Although we should vote according to our consciences, it is difficult to research and know every candidate and policy fully. Democratically, it would also restrict our nation to a class of voters that are “well informed” or maybe an omniscient cybernetic interconnected group of voters. Of course, then we’d be Borg.

In a representative democracy, favoritism towards a candidate or policy suffices and should be the final decision. We can let the courts decide specific cases that are in doubt, but that’s about the extent of it.



Seth Underwood
Invisible Illness

54+ autistic, undiagnosed dyslexic, sufferer of chronic migraines, writer of dark science fiction, player of video games and Mike Pondsmith Fan. Race- Human.