Edward Y. Lee Attorney at Law
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Can having a TBI mean I lose my right to vote?

Victims of traumatic brain injury stand to lose a lot. The need for legal protection and advocacy can't be overstated. From a physical perspective, TBI sufferers may endure debilitating conditions such as memory loss, the ability to earn a living and independence.

In most states, depending on the situation, TBI victims could be denied basic rights of citizenship – like the right to vote. For many individuals, this violates the core unalienable rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

What this highlights is that advocacy for TBI victims involves not just ensuring that these individuals receive all the care they need for their physical well-being, but also protecting their fundamental civil rights.

Rights do not disappear simply because a person has a disability resulting from a brain injury. Sometimes, however, one has to challenge the law to clarify where the line should be drawn on such actions. This is something one southern California man went to the mat over in the recent election cycle, and he won.

His problems developed when traumatic brain injury left him unable to walk or talk. In the wake of that trauma, his fiancée legally took on being his conservator. What the couple didn't appreciate was that when that happened, the law considered him mentally incompetent and he lost his voting rights. That was in 2011, when California law banned voting if a person couldn't fill out a voter registration form.

Last year, a new law took effect stating that a person can recover those rights by simply expressing the desire to vote in court. But in this man's case, even that wasn't enough. Though he articulated his desire through a computerized voice system to a court, the judge said she wasn't convinced he had demonstrated the necessary mental capacity.

Two weeks later, after receiving detailed documentation in support of the man, the judge reversed herself. Her order still expressed her doubts about his mental ability to vote, but she said she couldn't support her position under the new law. She suggested she might have pursued the matter if she'd had the resources to investigate further.

In TBI cases, a return to wholeness may include protecting one's unalienable rights.

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