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Our Contributions: Vote ‘yes’ on 2 campaign

 

Until 2010, the Kansas Constitution — originally written in 1859 — contained the following language in Article V, Section 2:

"Disqualification to vote. The Legislature may, by law, exclude persons from voting because of mental illness or commitment to a jail or penal institution."

Those advocating for mental health advances found this language — which puts people with mental illnesses into the same criminal category as people who’ve committed felonies — stigmatizing.

Stigmas like this often lead to people hiding their illness. In turn, that can lead to misdiagnoses, inadequate care or no treatment at all.

The Kansas Mental Health Coalition was committed to eliminating the stigmatizing language from the Kansas Constitution and wanted to launch a campaign for passing a constitutional amendment to do just that. The coalition is an umbrella organization for more than 60 organizations and individual advocates who aim to speak with one voice in order to more effectively meet the needs of Kansans with mental illness.

Coalition members approached the Sunflower Foundation for support. The resulting campaign, "Vote ‘Yes’ on 2," was a good fit with the foundation's interest in mental health care.

Educating Kansas voters would be key to getting a change to the state constitution passed.

“We have an historical stigma about mental illness,” said coalition member Rick Cagan. “People with mental health issues were second-class citizens. Of course, you have to understand that the 1859 state constitution was written by policymakers with only the limited understanding of the day about mental illness. The original language in the constitution created barriers to voting for groups identified as ‘insane and incompetent’.”

“The real challenge facing the campaign was getting voters to see how discriminatory this language was and how many people it affected. We had to help people understand the impact of their vote, so we chose stories that everyone could relate to, like those of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Under the old language found in the constitution, veterans with PTSD could have been excluded from voting,” Rick says.

“Our goal was for voters to understand that mental illness affects everyone, including their family members, neighbors and the person they sit by in church.”

The coalition had to come up with a failsafe plan. The "Vote ‘Yes’ on 2" campaign was primarily a grassroots effort with rallies, emails, meetings and letter writing. The Sunflower Foundation helped fund research and polling to help the coalition understand exactly what voters did and didn’t understand about "Vote ‘Yes’ on 2" and what message would work best.

Kansas voters passed Amendment 2 on Nov. 2, 2010, by a margin of 63 percent, demonstrating that a health problem as common as mental illness — whether that be depression, bi-polar disorder or PTSD — should never be confused with incompetence or used to determine if someone is qualfied to vote.

“Our message was, ‘Don’t let the government take away your right to vote, or the rights of your family, friends and neighbors.’ We were disciplined about sticking to this message,” Rick says. “Regardless of what more we would have liked to have said, the research indicated what we needed to say in order to win.”

The "Vote ‘Yes’ on 2" campaign won a "State Impact" award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas.

Highlights of Our Contributions

→ Kansas Clean Indoor Air Act of 2010

→ Vote ‘yes’ on 2 campaign

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