9 Investigates

9 Investigates: Guardianship appointments cost Florida seniors the right to vote

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — In December, Seminole County Resident Miriam Lancaster turned 100 years old.

In March, she went to vote in the Florida Primary and was turned away.

There are more than 3,000 seniors in Florida who have what is known as a “plenary guardian," a guardian appointed by the courts to handle all of the senior’s matters.

Plenary guardians are usually appointed in cases where the senior’s family is either unable or unwilling to oversee day-to-day issues such as bills and living arrangements.

When such a guardian is appointed in Florida, the seniors lose their ability to vote.

“Nothing has changed about me, I still feel the same way I did about the same things,” Lancaster said.  “I may be a little slower, but I am not mentally incapacitated.”

Nine Investigates discovered not every state automatically removes the voting rights when a guardian is appointed.  According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, laws vary wildly from state-to-state.

In Alaska, “an incapacitated person for whom a guardian has been appointed is not presumed to be incompetent and retains all legal and civil rights,” according to the Bazelon Center.

Meanwhile, 24 other states, including Utah and Texas, have no specific laws regarding revocation of voting rights by a person assigned a guardian.

“I just can’t believe they’ve taken away her rights,” said Sally Baptiste, Lancaster's friend.

Florida also uses another form of guardianship, known as a “limited guardian”.  Under a limited guardianship, a judge would determine which rights are to retained by the senior.

“I want my voice to mean something,” Lancaster said.

She plans to petition the court to regain her voting rights, a process which will take time and money.

Lancaster will likely also have to undergo mental competency hearing to attempt to regain her rights.

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